Construction on the long-anticipated Target shopping center in Petaluma is finally under way.

Regency Centers Corp. broke ground Monday on the 378,000-square-foot shopping center, located at the former Kenilworth Junior High School campus at the intersection of East Washington Street and Highway 101.

The East Washington Place shopping center is scheduled to open in summer of 2013. It will generate an estimated 380 construction jobs and 720 permanent jobs.

Regency, which purchased the property in 2004, said it plans to invest about $61 million to build the shopping center.

"Regency has been trying to get this development for close to seven years," said Onita Pellegrini, CEO of the Petaluma Area Chamber of Commerce. "They've held the land for quite a while to work through the hurdles at City Hall, and we're hoping within the next 18 months we'll have a Target there."

The project is the largest retail development in Sonoma County since 1995, when Santa Rosa Marketplace expanded from a Costco store of about 100,000 square feet to a 535,857-square-foot complex with a Best Buy, Sports Authority, Old Navy and other stores, said Tom Laugero, partner with commercial real estate company Keegan & Coppin.

"Petaluma has been so under-retailed," Laugero said. "Let's face it. Except for daily needs, you've got to go to Santa Rosa or Novato to get a computer, a suit, or a dress shirt. There's a real barrier to entry, and Petaluma is probably the hardest place in the county to get anything entitled."

Critics of big-box stores opposed the development, including Regency's plan to re-size six mid-sized buildings into four larger ones to accommodate the needs of tenants.

The Petaluma City Council approved those changes in September. At that time, Regency was in negotiations with Dick's Sporting Goods, Sunflower Farmers Market, Sprouts Farmers Market and TJ Maxx housewares and clothing stores.

"Tenant interest remains high as there are very few location options in this highly desirable market that has limited opportunities for future retail development," Ryan Nickelson, vice president of investments for Regency, said in a statement.

The retail development will create a variety of jobs, ranging from management positions to part-time work for high school students. Target plans to hire 200 employees and will host job fairs about two months before the store opens, the company said. Candidates may also apply online at Target.com/careers.

Midstate Construction, based in Petaluma, won the construction contract, Pellegrini said.

"The construction industry has been the hardest hit of all the industries in this downturn, and this will put some local folks back to work," Pellegrini said.

Regency owns or manages 71 properties in California which span 9 million square feet. Nationwide, the company owned 364 retail properties as of Dec. 31.