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The Gulf Coast Town Center, a 1.7-million-square-foot lifestyle property in Fort Myers, Fla., is nearing completion, as Chattanooga, Tenn.-based developer CBL & Associates Properties, Inc., is working on the third and final phase of the project. The center's Market Plaza will contain 182,000 square feet of space and be anchored by Ron Jon Surf Shop and Borders Books when it opens in 2008.

The project, which broke ground in 2004, is the result of a 50/50 joint venture between CBL & Associates and Cleveland-based Richard E. Jacobs Group, Inc. Upon completion, it will have 15 anchors and 120 specialty shops and restaurants. In addition to the retail space, Gulf Coast Town Center also features two hotels, a Courtyard by Marriott and Residence Inn by Marriott.

In spite of housing three large-scale shopping centers within a 10-mile radius (including Simon Property Group, Inc.'s Coconut Point and Miromar Development Corp.'s Miromar Outlets, both in Estero, Fla.), the Fort Myers area continues to be a draw for retail developers. Median household incomes within the primary trade area of the Gulf Coast Town Center are currently at $52,860 per year and the local population is forecast to grow by 16.46 percent within the next four years, to 522,959.

Meanwhile, new businesses continue to move into Fort Myers, leading to growing prosperity for local real estate developers. Last year, Inc. magazine named Cape Coral-Fort Myers as the hottest midsize cities on its Boomtowns list and Forbes put the Fort Myers metropolitan area on its Top 200 Metro Areas for Business and Careers.

Vacancy at regional malls in the Fort Myers/Cape Coral/Port Charlotte/Bonita Springs area is currently at 2 percent, according to the local brokerage firm NAI Southwest Florida, Inc. Rents average $40 per square foot.

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