While we have many exceptional retail establishments in our market, we could use a lot more. It's just good business. A first-class, diverse retail environment will motivate our shoppers to spend more money here than they currently do. When we lose shoppers to another market for just an item or two, we run the risk of a snowball effect as they satisfy more and more of their retail needs elsewhere. We want to be able to keep all their dollars here.

An influx of new, quality retailers not only will keep those dollars here, but also can make our existing retailers even better merchants. I'm a fervent believer in the business axiom that competition breeds innovation and self-improvement. It's human nature to be concerned about losing to the competition. That concern prevents complacency and gives us our business edge.

News about a pending retail explosion indicates that competition is on its way. Current retailers will have the opportunity to hone their merchandising skills and share in all those additional retail dollars to be spent here. But this explosion is not just about more stores; it's about more shopping districts, providing new and old retailers with increased location choices. These retail centers will be competing (there's that C word again) with each other to attract the most desirable retailers and to become the destinations of choice for shoppers.

Public awareness of what's on the radar heightened back in May with the news emanating from Las Vegas, site of the International Council of Shopping Centers' annual convention. It was heady stuff, and the buzz continues to proliferate.

With six to seven projects at various stages of development in both Sarasota and Manatee, we're looking at roughly 3 million additional square feet of retail space. National names such as Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Lord & Taylor, Crate & Barrel, Tiffany, Gucci and Ralph Lauren are being mentioned as realistic candidates to fill some of that space. The caches of the store names are exciting, but what are at least equally thrilling are the creative plans of the developers. One example is Isaac Group's Pineapple Square retail/residential project in downtown Sarasota. The retail component calls for two levels with 130,000 square feet of space, urban plazas, a pedestrian breezeway, sidewalk arcades and 1,000 covered parking spaces.

Other major retail developments include Irish-American's Sarasota Quay (140,000 square feet), Lakewood Ranch's Main Street (200,000 square feet), Lennar's Heritage Harbour at I-75 and S.R. 64 (500,000 square feet), Benderson's University Parkway at I-75 (ultimately 1.68 million square feet), Westfield Sarasota and Southgate expansions (140,000 and 135,000 additional square feet, respectively) and Cogan's proposed Siesta Point project at U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road (200,000 square feet). Add the uniquely charming and evolving St. Armands Circle to the mix and we've got a potential shopping paradise.

As to whether current and future populations can support all these retail centers, I have a ton of confidence in the research acumen of successful major developers and retail chains. Their strategy is not build it and they'll come. It's "They've come-and we're convinced they'll continue to come-so let's build it."

Whether or not all these developments come to fruition is a matter of question. But some or most of them should, and that is a very good thing for Sarasota and Manatee business. So bring it on; everyone benefits.

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