Two big developers position Manatee-Sarasota for major growth out east

November 27, 2012 

Southwest Florida's two premier developers adopted slow growth policies over the past few years while waiting for a rebound in the real estate market. While one, Schroeder-Manatee Ranch is now proceeding with calculated caution, the other, Benderson Development, recently broke ground on an upscale mega-mall.

With both developing properties in East Manatee, one could reasonably conclude the two big companies would be fierce competitors. As things are now, their immediate plans appear to be more complementary than competitive -- a positive for growth in Manatee and Sarasota counties.

As the developer of one of the nation's foremost master-planned communities in Lakewood Ranch, SMR still holds vast tracts of open land east of Interstate 75 in both counties.

With residential and corporate development attracting 15,000 residents and 900 companies as well as 4 million square feet of commercial space to date, SMR is advancing at a slow and steady pace on new home construction.

Benderson and its mall partner, Taubman Centers Inc., are plowing ahead with their $315 million University Town Center project -- sitting on Lakewood Ranch's doorstep just west of I-75 at University Parkway and I-75.

The 115-store luxury mall will become the largest retail center between Tampa and Fort Myers when completed in October 2014. The economic impact is projected at an astounding $440 million a year in consumer spending. Combined with the other Benderson-built retail outlets lining University, the total soars to $1.5 billion.

Equally important, the mall will create 3,000 jobs -- and an additional 2,000 at the three hotels and out-parcel retail once those businesses are operational.

"This is a region with a positive growth profile," Sean Snaith, a highly regarded economist with the University of Central Florida, stated in last week's three-part Herald report titled "Growing East."

Considering University Town Center is only the second regional mall project in the entire country since 2006, "positive growth profile" could be an understatement.

Also consider the office vacancy rate in Lakewood Ranch is the lowest in the Manatee-Sarasota market, and home sales are 44 percent above last year. Currently, 304 homes are under construction there, and hundreds more are in the planning stages.

SMR is also adding condos near Lakewood Ranch Main Street, the community's downtown heart with retail and entertainment as well as other commercial. Benderson plans 1,700 condo units surrounding the upscale mall, certain to be attractive to retail employees and shop owners.

For people who want to live near their workplace, both SMR and Benderson condos will provide that amenity.

In the sports arena, SMR and Benderson do indeed complement one another -- with unique world-class venues already attracting hordes of competitors and spectators. The Florida World Aquatic Center at Nathan Benderson Park, adjacent to the mall site, hosts major rowing competitions and training sessions. SMR's Premier Sports Campus, with 75 acres of outdoor playing fields, hosts professional and amateur soccer events, lacrosse and other sports. Plans include an indoor multipurpose facility and a hotel.

The young venues are already responsible for an incredible surge in sports tourism here with job creation and an economic impact further boosting the region.

"Growing East" outlined all this and more in detail. One can only be bullish on the region's future with SMR and Benderson leading the way.

Other developers are poised to benefit from their synergy, too, as growth surges in Manatee and Sarasota.

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