A longtime shopping hub West of the Ashley has taken a big step closer to a new look and an expanded, updated lineup of merchants.

Developers, city officials and residents gathered Thursday to break ground on the $20 million redevelopment of the aging St. Andrews Shopping Center, a major overhaul of the Savannah Highway mainstay that could re-energize the neighborhoods that surround it.

"We are tearing down 70,000 square feet of tired shopping center and replacing it with 90,000 square feet of brand new store," said Paul Puma, a regional vice president with Kimco Realty Corp., the complex's owner.

Kimco hopes to open the improved center next fall, which will coincide with the property's 50th anniversary, he added.

Half of the center, the part set farthest back from Savannah Highway, will be torn down and replaced with new stores, including a 52,000-square-foot Harris Teeter supermarket. The existing Tuesday Morning outlet and every store to the right of it will remain but get a facelift.

West Marine will expand into the new space, along with a pet retailer Petco and a national restaurant chain. Company officials said they still have small chunks of proposed space left for other businesses.

The company also will build two freestanding buildings along Savannah Highway in the shopping center's current parking lot. Moe's Southwest Grill plans to occupy one building, while Starbucks Coffee is considering leasing the other.

When the redevelopment plans were announced last fall, Starbucks had given Kimco officials confidence that they would move into the complex. But the lagging economy led the company to announce last week plans to close 600 stores across the country and curb the number of new locations it will open.

Kimco officials said they are still negotiating with the Seattle-based coffee giant, hoping it will be drawn to the revitalized center by the traffic count and support from the nearby community.

The two freestanding buildings were important to city planners, who wanted Kimco to incorporate urban concepts into the redevelopment. Those stores will help make the highway more a part of the community, Major Joe Riley said after the groundbreaking.

But Kimco wasn't entirely keen on the city's vision. Executives were concerned that Savannah Highway motorists wouldn't see its tenants' signs, and the alternative plans would have cost several million dollars extra.

Last fall, the two groups finally agreed. "This project took a bit longer than a normal project would in normal cities, and the fact is that Charleston isn't a normal city," Riley said.