By JEANNETTE DESANTIS

Contributng Reporter

Is retail getting to be too much of a good thing in the Santa Clarita Valley? That's what some experts are saying, as available space appears to be outpacing population growth.

"It is a little too much right now," said senior retail associate Ray Bayat of Grubb & Ellis Co. "There may not be enough money to go around."

Bayat said that by mid-year, almost every major discount retail outlet will operate in the Santa Clarita Valley. But with a population of 190,000, the market may not be able to support them all, he said.

"Right now we have a Best Buy, Good Guys and Circuit City all within a small market and competing for the same dollars," Bayat said. "Within the next year or two, we will need to balance it out with housing if it is going to work."

No major brokerage firms track retail vacancy rates in the area, but Bayat estimates the figure to be about 5 percent. He said vacancies primarily are found in older strip malls where retailers have either gone out of business or moved to newer locations in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Marlee Lauffer, spokeswoman for Newhall Land and Farming Co., said more housing is on the way to support retail. In Valencia, Lauffer said, there are 8,000 homes approved or pending approval that are expected to be developed in the next five years. The company's Newhall Ranch project will add another 21,000 homes, beginning in 2002 and continuing over the next 20 years.

With the median income of residents in the Santa Clarita Valley hitting the $78,000 mark, high-end retailers also want to make their way to North County. "We are looking to enhance the higher-end, more upscale retailers," said Lauffer. "They will be the next generation of retailers in the Santa Clarita Valley."

In the fourth quarter, the second phase of Town Center Drive, a pedestrian-oriented street with offices, apartments, restaurants and shopping, opened with an Ann Taylor, Chicos and Zany Brainy, an upscale children's' store.

In Canyon Country, an 80,000-square-foot entertainment center opened in the fourth quarter. It features a 10-screen Edwards movie theater, with an additional 40,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space. At the Stevenson Ranch Plaza, the second phase of a 190,000-square-foot project is being built and will be anchored by East Coast retailer Steinmart, a clothing and housewares store.

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