Several markets in Rhode Island remain strong.

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Rhode Island is the smallest state in the United States in terms of geographic area. With a population of 1.05 million, it is the eighth least populous state; however, its small geographic area makes it the second most densely populated of all 50 states. This density of population is attractive to retailers looking to expand in The Ocean State.

The city of Providence is the only major urban center in Rhode Island. As such, it serves as the cultural and economic hub of the state. Providence Place Mall, one of the most successful urban regional malls in the country, continues to serve as a strong anchor to the downtown area, bringing suburban customers in to the city of Providence to shop and eat at one-of-a-kind retailers and restaurants in the state, including Nordstrom, Cheesecake Factory, Dave & Busters, and Apple. Other than Providence Place, retail activity in the downtown market has been primarily focused on chain restaurants, such as Ruth’s Chris, The Capital Grille and McCormick & Schmick’s, continuing their presence and new local operators opening in the areas adjacent to the downtown core such as Federal Hill (Providence’s “Little Italy”) or along Thayer Street, which is the hub of retail activity on the Brown University campus.

In Cranston, Carpionato Properties recently completed its multi-phased buildout of Chapel View, a $180 million mixed-use development located on the site of the former Sockanosset Reform School for Boys. The 650,000-square-foot development contains 285,000 square feet of retail space with tenants such as Shaw’s, REI, Johnny Rockets and Ted’s Montana Grill. The project, which is a creative mix of new and old buildings saved and renovated from the Reform School, also contains 25 luxury residential condominiums and 245,000 square feet of Class A office space.

Also in Cranston, at the same intersection as Chapel View, is Garden City Center. Originally built in 1948, Garden City was redeveloped 20 years ago into what is considered one of the first lifestyle centers in the country. This initial redevelopment included space for big box tenants such as Linens ’n Things, Circuit City and Borders Books. With the demise of these big box tenants and the success of the existing lifestyle tenants such as Whole Foods, Anthropologie, Banana Republic, Chico’s and Bath & Body Works, Garden City’s management company, The Wilder Companies, saw the opportunity to expand the lifestyle portion of the project. This redevelopment of Garden City will involve the reconfiguration of the existing big box buildings as well as the addition of new buildings in order to extend the existing lifestyle portion of the project. The first phase of this redevelopment is currently under way with occupancy set for fall of this year. The second phase of the redevelopment will be completed in 2013.

The Route 2 (Bald Hill Road) corridor — which runs through the town of Warwick and has been home to almost every big box retailer in the state — has historically been considered the most dominant regional retail corridor in the state. However, with the economic downturn, spaces previously occupied by Linens ’n Things, Shaw’s and Bed Bath & Beyond still remain vacant.

In North Smithfield, Bucci Development is building the 600,000-square-foot Dowling Village, with anchor tenants Walmart, Lowe’s, Kohl’s, CVS/pharmacy and Aldi. The Walmart store, a relocation of an existing store in Woonsocket, opened in the fall of 2011. CVS/pharmacy is also currently open with Kohl’s, Aldi and Lowe’s scheduled to open in spring of 2013.

In Middletown, which is adjacent to the coastal resort town of Newport in the southern portion of the state, several developers are working to rezone large tracts of existing farmland that is located in the northern end of town to accommodate big box development. Although big box development has been overbuilt in some parts of the state, this did not occur in the Newport/Middletown submarket due to the difficulty of permitting such projects. With the need to increase tax rolls due to the economic slowdown, the politics of obtaining approvals may be changing.

-— Jed Hayes is principal of SullivanHayes Northeast/TCN Worldwide.

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