Shoppers, local businesses eager for University Town Center to arrive

nwilliams@bradenton.comOctober 15, 2012 

Editor's Note: This is the second of a two-part series about the impact of the mall.


MANATEE -- Lauren Bewley is anxiously anticipating the opening of the University Town Center mall, which will be located on the county line of Manatee and Sarasota County.

Bewley said she's outgrown the local outlets and to appease her shopping desires, Bewley, who lives on University Parkway in a neighborhood west of the 73-acre planned mall, travels to Tampa's International Plaza. It's 110 miles, round trip.

The $315 million, 880,000-square-foot mall -- which will see its ground breaking today -- will feature Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy's and Dillard's, and will house 115 stores and six sit-down restaurants.

The image instantly brings a smile to Bewley's face.

"I think it'll be great," she said. "It'll have restaurants and higher-end stores. It'll be good for a girls day out."

Other residents are equally anticipating the mall's opening, slated for October of 2014.

"It'll make it easier for us to go shopping because we have a dress code here," said Karla van Rensburg, a 23-year-old student at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Lakewood Ranch. Van Rensburg, who lives in East Manatee, chooses to drive 30 minutes to the Southgate mall in south Sarasota and expects students will flock to the new shopping venue.

"We don't have much time because we're always studying," van Rensburg said.

The indoor shopping mall will inject more than $400 billion a year into the regional economy and small businesses along University Parkway are hoping it will increase traffic and sales.

"It'll bring a lot of customers this way," said Ben Neider, studio manager of Guitar Center Sarasota, which is located in a Benderson-owned commercial development center adjacent to the site of the mall.

Guitar Center Sarasota offers lessons for various instruments and the bulk of its 344 members are youths ages 7-15. Neider said the mall will provide parents a place to go while their children take lessons.

"That will make this a strong corridor," he said.

Scott Paul, the director of operations for Red Elephant Cafe, a Florida-based pizza

and grill chain, said the new mall will increase the region's marketability.

One of his company's locations is inside a shopping center along University Parkway.

"I believe not only will it help traffic with it being a destination site, but also help this area by generating jobs," he said. "It'll create more opportunities for them to have disposable income and tax dollars generated from sales will help the local government. This can send a message out that Sarasota and University Park is back."

Paul, whose company has two restaurants in Tampa, said Red Elephant Cafe bought space specifically on University Parkway in anticipation of the mall's impact.

The average annual traffic counts along University Parkway adjacent to the mall are expected to grow from 62,000 vehicles a day now to 73,600 by year 2018 and 92,600 by 2028, according to the Florida Department of Transportation.

Though traffic will increase, Bewley doesn't think traffic will become a problem for residents near the mall.

"It'll be right off the interstate so it'll be convenient," she said.

"People like to be part of a crowd and this will make other people gravitate to us," Paul said.

Nick Williams, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. Twitter:@_1NickWilliams

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