Mall anchors announced for University Town Center in Sarasota

jsalman@bradenton.comApril 25, 2012 

SARASOTA -- Construction on the long-awaited University Town Center will begin this year, with Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy's and Dillard's featured as the mall's three anchor tenants.

The $315 million, two-story indoor shopping mall will house a total of 115 stores and six sit-down restaurants less than 880,000 square feet along University Parkway near Interstate 75 in north Sarasota County. More than half of those retailers will be new to the market, the developers announced Tuesday.

Taubman Centers Inc., a publicly traded commercial developer based in Michigan, has partnered with Benderson Development on the project. Each will own 50 percent of the town center.

Twenty years after its initial introduction to the Sarasota County Planning Department, the upscale fashion mall now is slated to begin construction later this year with an opening in fall 2014.

"There's a hole in the market in the Sarasota area," said John Eggert, development director for Taubman. "We hope this center will fill that and meet the demand for a dominant shopping destination."

University Town Center will be anchored by a 80,000-square-foot Saks Fifth Avenue, 160,000-square-foot Macy's and 180,000-square-foot Dillard's.

The blueprint calls for a fourth department store to be added in the future, as well as hotels, general office space and multifamily housing.

As part of the move to the Univserity Town Center, Saks will close its department store at Southgate Mall in Sarasota, the retailer confirmed.

The latest site plans filed with Sarasota County this month feature an anchor on each side of the mall and the third in the middle. Parking will surround the 73-acre shopping center, which will require the county to finish its Cattlemen Road extension project to serve as the main entrance.

Developers met with county planners last week and have all of the planning and zoning approvals in hand. A final building plan still must be filed for county approval.

Developers will pull a permit to begin the earthwork and parking areas in the next few weeks, Eggert said.

Details on a second phase -- including two hotels, condo-style housing and an additional commercial space -- are expected to be submitted for county approval soon to fill Benderson's remaining 200 or so acres at the site.

Within 12 months, Benderson hopes to begin construction on one of those hotels, as well as 220,000 square feet of general office space. The developer also has been approved to build 1,700 residential units there.

"It's a mixed use development," said Mark Chait, director of leasing for Benderson Development. "At the same time we anticipate the mall opening, we also plan to have one of our committed hotels opening, as well as 600 residential units."

Taubman, which officially reached an agreement to co-build the mall in February, will be responsible for development, management and leasing of the shopping center.

The company also owns or has co-developed other retail malls in Florida including International Plaza in Tampa, Waterside Shops at Pelican Bay in Naples and Mall at Millenia in Orlando. The University Town Center is its first venture in the Bradenton-Sarasota market.

Taubman collected an average companywide rent of $45.22 per square foot last year, with a 90.7 percent overall occupancy rate. The firm recorded $644.9 million in total consolidated revenue in 2011, a 3 percent increase from the previous year. The company's income from continuing operations grew 15 percent last year to reach $141.4 million. Unlike Taubman, Benderson is a privately held developer.

"We were originally involved in the project a few years ago, and with the economy, everything was put on hold," said Karen Mac Donald, director of communications at Taubman. "We're all set to move forward now."

Josh Salman, Herald business writer, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @JoshSalman.

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