North County is leading a rebound in retail construction as that sector of the local market slowly awakens from a years-long slumber brought on by the Great Recession and its aftermath.

Among the signs is completion of Sudberry Properties’ Palomar Commons retail center in Carlsbad, after four years of planning and construction. A new branch of California Bank & Trust recently opened as the first tenant in the 180,000-square-foot center off Palomar Airport Road.

San Diego County has 584,202 square feet of retail product under construction, brokerage services company CBRE Inc. recently reported. There are additional projects set to break ground over the next two years, local CBRE research manager Mark Fitzgerald noted, pointing to a return to growth in the retail market following several years of sparse construction.

North County is among the more active hubs for new retail. Besides Palomar Commons, the 270,000-square-foot La Costa Town Square is being developed in Carlsbad by a division of supermarket chain Safeway Inc., which broke ground earlier this year.

Also in Carlsbad, five miles north of the new Sudberry center off Interstate 5, Los Angeles-based Caruso Affiliated plans to develop 48 acres of former strawberry fields that it acquired last year. Caruso, which built The Grove retail center adjacent to the LA’s Farmers Market, is working through design and entitlement processes and mulling concepts for a center that may retain some agricultural themes.

Escondido’s first Walmart store is set to open in the fall, and developers are building the first phases of the mixed-use North City in San Marcos, where 1 million square feet of new retail is in the works.

Catering to Underserved Neighborhoods

At Palomar Commons, California Bank & Trust will be joined in September and October by the center’s anchor, Lowe’s, along with a roster of signed tenants including Five Guys Burgers & Fries, Panera Bread, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Jersey Mike’s Subs. Center owners said the lineup will also include a new quick-service concept being rolled out by San Diego’s Cohn Restaurant Group, called CYO Pizza, where customers will create their own pies from a selection of toppings.

“We’ve had a lot of demand and back-up demand for the spaces that have become available,” said Colton Sudberry, president of San Diego-based Sudberry Properties. “The restaurants especially have wanted to get into this area for a while, but there hasn’t been much space to go into there until recently.”

He said some of the new retail is catering to long-underserved neighborhoods, such as the nearby Bressi Ranch in Carlsbad, where new homes were added before the recession but commercial projects serving those new residents were delayed by the national downturn.

Among the Tightest Markets

CBRE researchers said new retail is also being added at mixed-used developments under construction or in the pipeline in other San Diego County locales, including downtown San Diego, Mission Valley, Carmel Valley and La Mesa.

In supply-and-demand terms, San Diego remains among the tightest U.S. metro markets for retail space. San Diego’s vacancy rate was 4.7 percent at the end of the second quarter, down from 5.1 percent a year ago, according to a midyear report by CoStar Group.

Big local lease transactions of 2013 have included Woodbridge Interiors’ move into 42,514 square feet in Miramar, Whole Foods Market’s leasing of 31,000 square feet in Del Mar, and Save-A-Lot’s move into 22,243 square feet in Coronado.

CoStar said the local region’s average asking rental rate was $21.42 per square foot at the end of the second quarter, up 2 percent from a year ago.

Sudberry said his company is finalizing plans and aiming to break ground in 2014 and 2015 on two other retail projects, targeting neighborhoods off Interstate 15 in San Diego that are deemed long underserved by retail.

Sudberry Properties is scouting tenants, including possibly a gourmet food market, to anchor a community-oriented center planned for a site off Scripps Poway Parkway. The other project, proposed for a site off Carroll Canyon Road, would contain larger-format retailers — in spaces up to 60,000 square feet — and cater to customers including those working in several nearby industrial parks.