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Christiana’s retail metropolis expanding with The Colonnade

Not all the construction at the congested juncture of Route 1 and Interstate 95 is road work.

Building is in full swing on the Colonnade at Christiana, a 750,000-square-foot lifestyle center that hopes to attract such first-in-the-market A-listers as The Container Store, Orvis and Nordstrom Rack.

The Colonnade also will cement Christiana’s evolution from sleepy farm community to retail metropolis; already it is home to the newly redeveloped Christiana Mall and Christiana Center, a 300,000 square-foot big box complex that includes Costco, hhgregg and Michael’s.

“Retailers like to be next to one another,” said Jim Oeste, vice president of retail for the developer, Allied Properties LLC. “We have a herd mentality.”

The 200-acre parcel has been owned for nearly 40 years by developer Frank Acierno, the founder of Allied. He first proposed building a 915,000-square-foot Fashion Center on the site in 2002, but was turned down by the New Castle County Planning Board, which said the developer failed to obtain a letter of approval from the Delaware Department of Transportation regarding provisions for streets and curb cuts.

After nearly a decade of lawsuits and negotiations, Allied received approval for the Colonnade, a lifestyle center that will include big box retailers, specialty boutiques, restaurants and entertainment in a park-like setting. The first phase is slated to open in Fall 2013.

Still, many consumers are holding tight to their wallets in a persistently sour economy. Retailers at neighborhood and community shopping centers exited a total of 31.6 million square feet from 2008-2011, according to Reis, a data service.

So, if they build it, will shoppers come to the Colonnade?

Reis statistics indicate there’s room for retailers to grow. Only 4.5 million square feet of retail space debuted in 2010, the least amount in 31 years. The needle barely moved in 2011, when 4.9 million square feet were developed.

Oeste is quick to note that Allied has yet to receive commitments from any merchants. Although no deals have been sealed, he acknowledged the company is seeking letters of intent from a number of retailers listed on a site plan for the Colonnade on Allied’s website.

The wish list includes such consumer favorites as Trader Joe’s, Chico’s, Ulta and the market’s first Hobby Lobby. There are pads for eight restaurants, a Dave & Buster’s and a Cinemark theater.

“It will be heavily landscaped, with fountains, walkways and places to sit,” Oeste said. “It will feel very upscale, with soft uplighting in the evenings.”

Based in North Wilmington, Allied owns and manages more than six million square feet of retail space in regional malls, power centers, and lifestyle centers in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware, including Christiana Town Center, a big box complex anchored by Boscov’s and home to DSW shoes, Staples, BuyBuy Baby, Old Navy and Bed Bath & Beyond.

These days, a routine day at Allied includes a phone call to DelDOT for an update on the roadwork only a few hundred yards from the Colonnade site, Oeste says. The conversations are informative and constructive, rather than adversarial.

One of the state’s major goals is to complete elevated ramps that will connect Route 1 and I-95, allowing traffic to merge more smoothly at the heavily trafficked interchange. DelDOT expects to complete that project by the end of the year.

By the time the Colonnade debuts, Oeste hopes motorists will quickly forget the hassles of roadwork and turn their attention to shopping, dining and leisure.

“There are a lot of drivers on Route 1 and I-95,” he said. “We are hoping it’s an easy trip for them to come and visit us.”