Greg Wexler, project manager for Arizona Pavilions mega shopping complex in Marana's Continental Ranch area, is a firm believer in the old song about retailers following rooftops.
And why shouldn't he be?
Twenty-five years ago about the only businesses going in the neighborhood southeast of Cortaro Farms Road were a gas station and a couple of fast food restaurants.
Then came Continental Ranch north of West Ina Road between North Silverbell Road and Interstate 10, annexed by Marana 16 years ago, and in March of this year Continental Reserve with their burgeoning housing developments that will eventually total more than 5,000 homes and 9,000 residents.
Things aren't about to slow down anytime soon, even though Wexler did lose out on landing home improvement giant Lowe's earlier this year when Lowe's decided to locate its store at the former Super Kmart, 4075 W. Ina Road, following the spring closure of the Kmart store, Marana's third largest source of retail sales taxes.
Wal-Mart opened its 203,000 square foot superstore, the focal point of a 70-acre retail "power center" in April, just a month after the Continental Reserve housing development grand opening. In October, a 90,000 square-foot Kohl's department store is scheduled to open, one of 13 stores the chain plans to build in Arizona during the second half of this year.
Customers are expected to spend an estimated $45 million a year at Kohl's and help generate nearly $500,000 in sales taxes for Marana; projections for Wal-Mart call for a doubling of those totals.
But Wexler is far from through. Potential tenants seem to be lining up like an overloaded assembly line.
Taking up space in a series of pads directly west of Wal-Mart and Kohl's are D-M Credit Union, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Taco Bell. Blockbuster Video, Payless ShoeSource and H&R Block are set just east of Arizona Pavilions Drive, while Starbucks and Bank of America will be going in just to the north. Along Cortaro, an Ace Hardware store is under construction next to BrakeMax and plans for Bank One, to be located next door to Comcast, were recently approved by the town's Planning and Zoning Commission.
Also along Cortaro, plans are pending for a Checker Auto Parts store, Magpies Gourmet Pizza and Radio Shack within 16,000 square feet of retail space. Negotiations are also underway with In-N-Out Burger, a California chain, he said.
"What I'm trying to do is to finish development or get most of the development under way first on the Wal-Mart side, the east side," Wexler said.
"On the west side I'm looking at some different alternatives, so I'm talking to Pier One, Petco, 99 Cent Stores and a developer who does food courts, as well as a variety of smaller chains which would provide something a little more pedestrian friendly where you could get in and get out, versus the two big boxes. But I'm just in the process of planning that."
Space available on the west side includes 16,000 square feet for shops and four pads ranging in size from 23,000 square feet to 30,000 square feet for other retailers. Three pads ranging from 25,000 to 36,000 square feet and another 8,000 square feet for shops are awaiting tenants on the south side. On the project's north side, where a number of motels are in place, Wexler is trying to land sit-down restaurants.
It's taken Wexler since about 1992 to get where he's at now and he said he expects it will take from two to five years to reach buildout.
Other possible tenants in Arizona Pavilions include Ross Stores, a discount chain, Trader Joe's, Pier One, a major electronics chain and a linens outlet.
Although Wal-Mart provided the catalyst for the most recent spurt in retail development because of the sales it generates, its presence is unlikely to attract the more upper scale stores such as Nordstroms or Neiman Marcus, Wexler said.
"Metropolitan Tucson's a middle America town, not like San Francisco, so while you may have million dollar homes in areas like Dove Mountain in Marana, it's still a middle America play from the national scheme of things," he said. "We've always been an in-migration town" as far as people coming from California," Wexler said. "The problem is we don't have the job creation from the standpoint of the level of salaries."
The burst in new arrivals at Arizona Pavilions seems to fit in with what residents in the Continental Ranch area indicated they wanted in a December 2001 survey conducted by consultants for the town of Marana to determine the amount and types of businesses to be built.
More than 60 percent of those surveyed at the time indicated a desire for more businesses, with 26 percent expressing a desire for more "fine dining" or "sit down-style" establishments and 22 percent favoring more grocery stores.
In response to residents' concerns about new businesses overtaxing already jammed roads in the area, the Marana Town Council in the summer of 2001 instituted a moratorium on new commercial construction in Continental Ranch while an overlay ordinance was being developed to regulate the type, placement and operating conditions of new businesses. The moratorium has since been lifted and the new overlay ordinance is now in place, said Joel Shapiro, Marana's planning director.