While December is generally not considered an ideal time to break ground on a new construction project, Steve Zhao did just that. A 9,000-square-foot strip center has been under construction at 4300 W. Wabash Ave. for a little more than a month, and Zhao said if the weather cooperates he hopes to have the project completed by April.

It’s also unusual to build a multi-unit center without at least one anchor tenant, but Zhao said he has no signed leases just yet. However, according to Zhao, three different companies have expressed interest and he anticipates having leases signed once a firm date for occupancy can be determined.

Evan Lloyd Architects prepared the plans for the new building, and while the intention is to have five suites of equal size, Zhao said he is open to combing suites to create a larger space if needed. “We even have the option to do a drive-up if we want to,” he said.

Zhao is also keeping his options open in case of space remaining in the center. “If I don’t find a tenant by June, I’ll put my own restaurant in it,” he said. “Although I prefer to have everything leased out and be a landlord.”

Zhao has extensive restaurant experience and was most recently involved in Hibachi Grill & Supreme Buffet in the Town & Country Shopping Center before selling the business last year. He also owns Asian Market, an ethnic grocery store on Wabash Ave.

On the development side of things, Zhao plans to continue building new centers and he serves as his own general contractor. Zhao has existing centers in Decatur and Champaign, along with one on North Dirksen Parkway in Springfield anchored by Penn Station East Coast Subs.

“I want to build one strip center every two years,” he said.