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Central Park is feeling empty
Vacancy rate creeps up at Central Park as more retailers go out of business


Date published: 2/8/2009

BY BILL FREEHLING

For years, Fredericksburg's Central Park has been the undisputed king of area retail centers.

Its lineup of national restaurants and retailers and strategic location at the intersection of State Route 3 and Interstate 95 has made it the "New York Yankees of Fredericksburg retail," in the words of area commercial Realtor Brian Cunningham.

But like the baseball Yankees, Central Park is in a bit of a slump lately. "For lease" signs and empty storefronts now abound.

Central Park isn't the only area retail center struggling in the face of significantly lower consumer spending that's been hit by a combination of falling housing prices, tight credit, rising unemployment, low confidence and increased savings.

But Central Park has been hit harder than most, according to a review of vacancy rates at some of the area's biggest shopping centers. The data were provided by commercial real-estate firm Thalhimer/Cushman & Wakefield.

Central Park's vacancy rate is now 10.5 percent. The rate of the greater Fredericksburg area--the city and Stafford and Spotsylvania counties--is about 6 percent.

Central Park has been hit hard by retailers announcing bankruptcy and closing stores on a national level. Tweeter, Mattress Discounters, Linens 'N Things, Circuit City, Bassett Furniture and 5 & Diner all had or have locations at Central Park.

The decision to close those businesses was made at a corporate level rather than being based on the individual performance of the Fredericksburg store, noted Sheryl Simeck, spokeswoman for the major Central Park owner The Rappaport Cos. She said Rappaport is seeing interest from companies that have wanted to be in Central Park and see the vacancies as opportunities to enter the market.

Cunningham, associate director for GVA Advantis' Fredericksburg office, said he's seeing similar interest at Central Park Town Center, where he handles a good bit of leasing. He recently brokered a lease there for Wegmans and SunTrust Mortgage, and he said he has two users now looking at office space. One is interested in about 35,000 square feet.

Still, Cunningham said, it's a tough time for retailers to expand.

"Retailers are gun-shy right now to really do anything," he said. "The current economic conditions make them nervous."


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Area vacancy rates

Here are estimated vacancy rates at some of the area's biggest shopping centers. Data are courtesy of Thalhimer/Cushman & Wakefield.

Central Park: 10.5 percent

Cosner's Corner: 5.8 percent

Stafford Marketplace: 3.3 percent

Southpoint I and II: 3.3 percent

Downtown Fredericksburg*: 3.2 percent

Doc Stone Commons: 1.9 percent

Spotsylvania Towne Centre: 1.1 percent

*Caroline Street between Lafayette and Lewis streets, William Street from Prince Edward to Sophia