rtrivedi@naplesnews.com" /> First phase of Simon Mall delayed until March of '06 » Marco Eagle

First phase of Simon Mall delayed until March of '06

The first phase of the much-touted Coconut Point Town Center project will open later than was originally announced. Instead of opening this fall, the first of the shops will now open in March of next year.

Site work has been ongoing on the 1.6 million square foot "lifestyle center" on U.S. 41, just north of Coconut Road in Estero, which will include several retail buildings, office space and a 20-screen Muvico theater and have a "village Main Street feel." The first of the shops and a portion of the mall were expected to open this fall.

At the end of 2004, Les Morris, spokesman for Simon Group, the mall developer, said that "this time next year, there will be people shopping at Coconut Point."

Those plans have been pushed back, but Morris hastened to reiterate that the change will not affect any of the larger plans for the center.

"We still think the project is terrific, we are very excited about it and very committed to it," Morris said. "We just felt that the execution from our standpoint would be better with more time."

Morris said such delays are not unusual in large projects and that the original time-frame calling for a fall 2005 opening was aggressive.

"We had some delays in the permitting process that led to pushing back the date, but there is nothing unusual or extraordinary in terms of the delay. That type of thing occurs routinely in the construction of these large projects," he said.

Local real estate and market analysts agreed the delay wasn't unusual.

"There is nothing in the marketplace that could affect the project and the delay isn't likely to affect the market for the project," said Mike Timmerman, president of the Naples consulting firm Feasinomics. "Whenever they open, they are going to have a ready and waiting marketplace."

Various factors can affect the planning and construction of large projects, said Andrew DeSalvo, veteran real estate broker with Premier Commercial Properties.

"All sorts of things happen. There are extensive permitting issues, supplies, workers and personnel ... all come into play and weather has an impact as well," DeSalvo said.

The delay might even play to Lee County and area's advantage by allowing more time for needed roadwork and other infrastructure to be in place. Even in the few months of the delay, there will more residential units coming up in the area, creating a more immediate demand for the center, the U.S. 41 expansion project will be that much closer to completion and Rapallo, the residential community adjacent to Coconut Point will be further along in construction. The 540-home community is already fully sold out, according to its developer Jim Wallace of Wallace Homes.

One possible negative impact would be for the Simon Group, which will be paying interest on its loans for that much longer without earning rent.

Company officials don't seem too concerned about that.

"Our interest has been delivering the best project we can," Morris said. "We have a big commitment to quality and one way to do it is not rush the project."

Although not directly related to the delay, the project is seeing another change as well. The local face of Coconut Point, Ron Dillon, is leaving. Dillon, who was with Oak Brook Properties, the landowners for the Simon Group's project, is taking a job with St. Joe Paper Co., a large landowner in northern Florida, and will be leaving around March 3.

Don Eslick, a member of the Estero Concerned Citizens Organization who worked with Dillon in drafting the 87-page design standards for the entire project, said his departure will be a loss to the project and the community. Dillon couldn't be reached for comment.

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