The parking lot blacktop is all ready for a sea of cars filled with shoppers, but there's still no eagerly anticipated power center at Gary Road and Hunt Highway.
Developers of Skyline Ranch Marketplace say the large retail center is on track for a mid-2009 opening of some of the project's major stores. The Santan-area project was originally scheduled to open in late 2007.
However, there are encouraging signs that the power center is now on track in an area that is notoriously starved for restaurants and, in general, more shopping.
Margaret Carstens, a five-year resident of Johnson Ranch, said that she must travel 15 to 20 miles to a Home Depot on Power Road in Gilbert and 10 miles to Queen Creek for restaurants and other shopping.
"I set up meetings for breakfast," she said. "We have to drive into Queen Creek to eat breakfast."
Developers of the project, Scottsdale-based Diversified Partners, say that the two anchor tenants of the power center will be Home Depot and Target. A list of the other retailers was not available, but plans include clothing outlets, restaurants and other businesses.
Justin Gubler, a project manager with Diversified, said that once the anchor stores are built it will drive other businesses to locate at the 64-acre property. He said both of the retail giants likely filed building permits with Pinal County. The county's building division did not confirm Thursday afternoon that the permits had been filed.
"Once you have the Home Depot and Target open, everyone will want to be there and everyone will be there," Gubler said.
The housing boom has made Pinal County the third-fastest-growing county in the nation, according to recent Census Bureau estimates.
However, a slowing economy has hit the area hard and helped earn it one of the highest foreclosure rates in the state.
Developers of the power center say the economic fundamentals of the area are still strong. A study of the project showed that there are 42,000 houses in a 5-mile radius of the planned power center.
The neighborhoods include San Tan Heights, Johnson Ranch, Rancho Bella Vista, Morning Sun, Circle Cross Ranch, San Tan Shadows, Bella Vista Farms and Johnson Farms. The average household income in 2007 in the area was $66,106, according to Diversified's study.
One needs only to look at a packed Wal-Mart Supercenter near the future power center to tell that the area needs more retail opportunities, Gubler said. "We still believe the area is underutilized," he said. "In fact we have a couple of projects in the area that are doing quite well."
Kristen Trussell, a Realtor with Red Earth Realty, said most of her home sales are foreign buyers looking for a second home in the area, which has become more affordable as the housing market has taken a dive.
She said that when a large commercial development goes in it can only make the area more attractive to people who want to spend part of the year in Arizona.
"You hear the rumors that it's going in and that it's not going in. Right now they have a Fry's and a Wal-Mart, and that's about it," she said. "It's huge if a commercial development goes in."