Space for shops, restaurants and other retail businesses across Dallas-Fort Worth is at its highest occupancy level in more than six years, and construction of new space is beginning to tick up as a result, according to new reports.The Weitzman Group, which tracks more than 186 million square feet of retail space in shopping centers with at least 25,000 square feet, said the 89.3 percent occupancy rate at the end of July is a slight improvement from year-end 2012, but the highest since 2007.Weitzman attributes the growth to an increase in grocers moving into North Texas as well as the retail industry seeing fewer store closings. New retailers are quickly filling in empty spaces, including some left by big-box retailers that pulled out of the market in the past few years. One example is the Container Store, which recently opened in a former Borders Books store location in the Chapel Hill shopping center at Interstate 30 and Hulen Street that sat vacant for about two years.The retail push is the result of population and job growth, commercial real estate brokers say. A Marcus & Millichap report said the 106,000 jobs created in 2012 in DFW continues to attract retailers.“The Metroplex at all corners, Fort Worth included, continues to see population growth,” said Bob Young, managing director of brokerage services at The Weitzman Group. “Retail follows rooftops. Multifamily apartments are more prevalent, and single-family homes sales are up. Add that all together and it creates a market that needs goods and services.”In Tarrant County, much of the residential growth has been to the north in the Alliance corridor of Fort Worth. But housing growth will soon come in waves to the west with the opening of the Chisholm Trail Parkway, which will connect downtown Fort Worth to Cleburne.Terry Montesi, chairman and CEO of Trademark Property Co. in Fort Worth, a partner in the huge Alliance Town Center shopping center, has plans for a 63-acre residential and retail development called Waterside on the Lockheed Martin Recreation Center Association land near the Chisholm Trail Parkway. “Texas right now is at the top of the list of retailers’ plans,” Montesi said. “It’s time now. The market’s ready.”So much so that Montesi said Trademark is looking to complete WestBend on University Drive just south of Interstate 30, an upscale retail project that it began in 2009, he said. That will include 90,000 square feet for shops and restaurants, some along the banks of the Trinity River. It was formerly called River Plaza. A CBRE commercial real estate report places second-quarter occupancy at 91.2 percent, compared to 90.5 in the second quarter of 2012 and above the average since 2005 of 90.7 percent.“This is the best first half of a year that the area has seen since 2008,” the report said. “These positive trends have led to an increase in construction with plans moving forward across the Metroplex for new developments and redevelopments of existing properties.”Jon McDaniel, president of retail for NAI Robert Lynn’s Fort Worth office, said he sees retailers expanding and relocating, and lots of franchises moving in, from small neighborhood centers to larger shopping centers.“I don’t think I’ve ever seen the market this strong,” said McDaniel, who has been a broker for more than 10 years. “Hopefully it stays.”McDaniel said he has had a good deal of interest recently in a 25,000-square-foot, former electronics store at Cooper Street and Interstate 20. He’s also approaching the 90 percent leased rate at the 27,000-square-foot Shoppes DiLucca at Matlock Road and Debbie Lane in Mansfield before the center even opens.The reports show that 3.9 million square feet of retail space is under construction, led by the 1.9 million-square-foot Nebraska Furniture Mart in The Colony. Renaissance Square, located along U.S. 287 between Vaughn and Mitchell boulevards in southeast Fort Worth, is also providing a large amount of new retail construction. Construction began in early 2012 after the project was stalled for three years while Lockard Development waited for the economy to improve.Now, with the January opening of a 185,000-square-foot Wal-Mart there, other leases have followed quickly, said Dave Wilson, Lockard’s executive vice president. Another 100,000 square feet of space has been built and leased, with all those stores opening by November, he said. Wilson said they could start construction on another 50,000 square feet of space in the next six months because of demand. “The key for retailers is to hear that stores are doing well,” Wilson said. “A lot of things are in the works. We are happy with the progress.”Locally, grocers are a big part of the retail push. Wal-Mart has opened a Neighborhood Market at West Berry and Hemphill streets, and WinCo Foods of Boise, Idaho, plans new stores at Dick Lewis Drive and Thaxton Parkway in North Richland Hills and at Sycamore School and Crowley roads in south Fort Worth. Whole Foods Market took 40,000 square feet off the market in Village Park in Colleyville where it will open a store next year in a former Albertson’s space.And in Southlake, outdoors clothing and footwear seller Whole Earth Provision Co. has leased the former Robb & Stuckey furniture store that closed three years ago in the town square development.
Sandra Baker, 817-390-7727 Twitter: @SandraBakerFWST