SARASOTA -- The most ambitious retail project Southwest Florida has seen in more than a decade will officially break ground next month.
Construction is slated to begin on the long awaited University Town Center Mall on Oct. 16 when community officials gather for the commencement ceremony.
The $315 million, two-story indoor mall near University Parkway and Interstate 75 just a stone's throw south of the Manatee border is one of the few shopping centers of that magnitude to break ground in the U.S. this year.
Anchored by a Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy's and Dillard's, the mall will house a total of 115 stores and six sit-down restaurants over 880,000 square feet. More than half of those retailers will be new to the market, according to the developers.
The project is expected to bring a stimulus to the economy to the tune of 1,000 direct construction jobs and another 2,000 positions when it opens in fall 2014.
Consumer spending and sales tax allocations also will be greatly amplified in the area.
An uptick in new home construction nearby should then follow, said Sean Snaith, an economist with the University of Central Florida.
"These are the types of projects we have been waiting to see for some time with the recession and housing collapse," Snaith said. "Anything of that size will have a big impact on the economy."
Michigan-based Taubman Centers Inc. announced in February an equal ownership share with local retail giant Benderson Development on the mall -- the most significant sign of movement since the project was first pitched to Sarasota County officials 20 years ago.
Three anchors then committed just months later in April.
Site plans filed with Saraso
ta 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 use the Cattlemen Road extension as the main entrance.
The blueprint calls for a fourth department store to be added in the future. And although speculation surrounds a Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom -- two of the more luxury retailers originally envisioned for the center -- developers still will not comment on tenant possibilities.
But with site work already ongoing, the project remains on schedule.
"I think it's fair to say this will be the largest construction project underway in the area during the 21-month build-out," said Mark Chait, director of leasing for Benderson Development.
"All of the spin-off that comes from that employment will spread tremendously."
A second phase with condo-style housings, 220,000 square feet of general office space and 1,700 residential units also will surround the mall.
"There's a hole in the market in the Sarasota area," John Eggert, development director for Taubman, said previously. "We hope this center will fill that and meet the demand for a dominant shopping destination."
Josh Salman, Herald business writer, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @JoshSalman.