When Westfield Southcenter began construction two years ago on a massive expansion, few predicted the housing-market slump and credit crunch...

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When Westfield Southcenter began construction two years ago on a massive expansion, few predicted the housing-market slump and credit crunch now dragging down the U.S. economy.

Even so, Southcenter representatives exuded nothing but confidence Thursday as they led local media on a tour of the project and announced July 25 as the opening date. By then, Australia-based Westfield Group will have spent $240 million to expand and renovate the 40-year-old mall off Interstate 5 in Tukwila.

“Yes, there are general economic issues throughout the country, but our region is one of the strongest, and retailers recognize that,” said Andrew Ciarrocchi, the mall’s senior general manager.

At 400,000 square feet, the expansion makes room for 75 new specialty shops on the mall’s south side, including several firsts for the Seattle area: PINK, a retail concept by Victoria’s Secret aimed at 18- to 22-year-olds; Love Culture, which sells women’s clothing, accessories and shoes; and Gilly Hicks, a new brand of intimate apparel and loungewear by Abercrombie & Fitch.

H&M, a Swedish retailer known for trendy yet inexpensive apparel, and Forever XXI each will take up some 25,000 square feet on two floors. Borders will unveil a new concept store, one of 14 nationwide.

“We’re really improving the retail mix here dramatically,” said Larry Green, senior vice president of West Coast development for Westfield.

Southcenter’s tenant roster now numbers about 120, with Nordstrom, Macy’s, J.C. Penney and Sears chief among them.

The expanded section is fully leased, although not all of the new tenants have announced that they’re coming, preferring to wait until closer to the opening, Ciarrocchi said.

After the expansion, Southcenter will become the largest shopping center in Washington state, with 1.7 million square feet, surpassing Bellevue Square and Alderwood.

Elsewhere, Northgate Mall has nearly completed a 100,000-square-foot expansion, University Village has begun seeking regulatory approval to increase its retail space by about 25 percent, and Bellevue Square is spending more than $40 million on a renovation to give it an “urban-garden” feel.

Also, The Landing has opened on 68 acres in Renton, while the Bravern development in downtown Bellevue will soon boast the area’s first Neiman Marcus.

“If you look between Lynnwood and Tukwila, there’s more and more density,” said Susie Detmer, a Seattle real-estate broker who specializes in retail properties for Cushman & Wakefield. “Houses on 11,000-square-foot lots suddenly become four town homes. That density is what retailers are looking for.”

Still, the area has yet to reach its full retail potential, Detmer said.

“We only have 10 square feet of retail for every man, woman and child in the Puget Sound area,” she said. “Other parts of the country, on a conservative basis, are closer to 12, and some are as high as 20. We can support a lot more retail.”

Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or amartinez@seattletimes.com