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Study says county loaded with shopping centers

November 28, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Washington County is one of the most shopping center-loaded regions per capita in the nation, according to statistics released this month.

The county ranked 17th out of more than 300 regions in a study by the Chicago-based National Research Bureau, which tracks the industry.

The study shows that Washington County has 16 shopping centers and about 3.55 million square feet of gross, leasable shopping center space.

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Using a population estimate of 135,801, the National Research Bureau calculated that the county has 26.13 square feet of shopping center space per person.

The study - part of a Market Scoreboard, which costs $250 - is a relative measure of retail development, National Research Bureau President Nancy Veatch said.

The Myrtle Beach, S.C., market ranked as the most developed, at 43.22 square feet of gross, leasable shopping center space per person.

Fort Myers-Cape Coral, Fla., was next at 34.78, followed by Boulder-Longmont, Colo., at 28.79.

Half of the top 20 markets were in the South, including six in Florida.

Timothy Troxell, the executive director of the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission, said the rank doesn't surprise him because the county is a retail magnet.

"All of the new shopping (space) built is 100 percent leased," he said. "People are willing to spend money in Washington County."

In 2003, for the third year in a row, Prime Outlets at Hagerstown was the county's top tourist attraction.

The Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau has said that 90 percent of the outlet center's shoppers come from outside Washington County.

Valley Mall and the Centre at Hagerstown, which is anchored by Wal-Mart, are other large shopping centers in the county.

The rank in the retail study "absolutely shows that we're not a community unto ourselves," said Tom Riford, the president and chief executive officer of Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Riford and Troxell said businesses and organizations they try to bring to Washington County take note of the retail climate, although to varying degrees.

Riford said it's one of the top things that conventioneers and tourists ask about.

Troxell said it's a lesser concern for businesses, but a definite consideration as part of the quality of life.

"We almost always try to drive (representatives of prospective businesses) by one of those facilities," he said. "They're pretty impressive for a community of our size."

"Thank goodness that we have retail because it helps us market the rest of the county," Riford said.

Washington County's annual population growth of .85 percent from 1990 to 2004 was one of the lowest rates among the top 20 markets in the study.

The projected annual population growth until 2009 also is lower than most of the other top 20 markets.

The National Research Bureau is a division of Claritas, a San Diego-based company that compiles and supplies information about people, households and businesses.

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