Is Sugar Land Town Square in trouble?

HOUSTON Well before Sugar Land Town Square was ever built there were high expectations for what it was to become.

"It's going to be the icon of our city, the icon of Fort Bend County," former mayor Dean Hrbacek said in a 2001 interview. "It's going to be the crown jewel."

Most would argue that it's become just that. But what doesn't make sense to some are the signs that keep appearing in store windows -- "store closing," "now leasing" -- and the empty floors and shelves inside others. At least seven stores have recently or will soon shut down.

"I'm very surprised that they are closing," Sugar Land resident Jyoti Wagle said.

Others are unnerved by it, particularly those like Joanne Foo, who is preparing a new restaurant, Taisho Japanese Grill, for opening in just a few weeks.

"When I saw those signs, I [was] a little concerned," she said. "I hope that people fill in the space."

Developers say that tenants are, in fact, filling vacancies. Currently Sugar Land Town Square is 77 percent leased.

"It's like putting your finger in the dike," Planned Community Developers executive VP Stephen Ewbank said. "Every time you put a finger in, something else leaks."

Ewbank also says several national companies like Sharper Image have pulled out because of problems at the parent company, not for reasons at the local level. They were problems that bankruptcy and reorganization could not rectify.

"The weight of the losses of these national tenants on the East and West coasts where they're really hurting is pulling down the whole balance sheet of these national tenants where they can't be profitable overall," he said.

Sugar Land city officials say sales tax revenues are up by nearly four percent. Local and regionally-based businesses are the main ones moving into the town square because they have been hurt less by the recession.

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