Stuart, Fla., to Get High-End Retail Center

Treasure Coast residents trekking south to Palm Beach Gardens for their holiday shopping might not have to make the journey during the 2008 retail rush.

The Trotman Co. Inc., a Montgomery, Ala.-based developer, is closing in on plans to build a 325,000-square-foot, high-end retail center in south Stuart, bringing Martin County an alternative to the "lifestyle center" shopping at Downtown at the Gardens.

Charlie Trotman, the company's president, said Tuesday he intends to submit plans to the city in about a month and hopes to open the outdoor cluster of restaurants, shops and offices, known collectively as The Fountains at Stuart, by March 2008.

The shopping hub, on 25 acres just outside city limits, would stretch south along U.S. 1 from Dominica Terrace to Gran Parkway and include a gourmet grocery, a bookstore and department store, among other retailers. Thirty to 40 shops and 50,000 square feet of office space are planned for the $60 million project, Trotman said.

"We're trying to put together a great tenant lineup that will cover all of the different categories and will include a lot of the high-end tenants that shoppers in the area would like to see," he said.

He would not reveal which stores have signed leases. The company has lured national chains such as Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn and Barnes & Noble to other developments.

"I think what made us feel that Stuart really needed something like this is there are a lot of people that are more affluent shoppers that are having to travel from Stuart ... to the Gardens," Trotman said.

Like Downtown at the Gardens, which is an open-air shopping center north of PGA Boulevard that opened a year ago this month, the Trotman project would be a pedestrian-friendly center with plazas and fountains linking stores and restaurants.

It would be slightly smaller than the Gardens, which features 345,000 square feet of shopping and dining on 35 acres.

The firm originally called the project Stuart Towne Center but changed the name to avoid confusion with downtown Stuart, Trotman said. The company hopes to achieve city annexation and start construction by summer.

Kevin Freeman, Stuart's development director, said he sees demand for such a center in Martin County.

"I could see the market would support such a use, and I think it would be a benefit to the county and the city," he said.

The Fountains at Stuart would be the Treasure Coast's first freestanding lifestyle center. Others are in the pipeline in Martin and St. Lucie counties.

- Downtown at the Gardens' developer, Menin Development Corp., hopes to open a 260,000-square-foot center just west of Interstate 95 at St. Lucie West Boulevard by late 2008 or early 2009.

- The Simon Property Group Inc.-owned Treasure Coast Square mall in Jensen Beach is planning a 25,000-square-foot lifestyle-inspired addition.

- Core Communities LLC has proposed a 75,000-square-foot lifestyle center as part of its Tradition development in western Port St. Lucie.

About 150 lifestyle centers exist across the country, and they're especially popular in warm-weather states, said Patrice Duker, spokeswoman for the International Council of Shopping Centers in New York.

They tend to work well in areas with median household incomes of at least $70,000.

"They certainly look for a more affluent community to build in," she said.