University mall getting major anchors: Macys, Dillards, Saks 5th Avenue

eearl@bradenton.comMarch 13, 2013 

SARASOTA -- Shopping on University Parkway is about to get a lot more upscale.

Eager shoppers can expect a bounty of signature stores, such as anchor stores Macys, Dillards and Saks 5th Avenue, which will each be larger than their current area locations. But customers should not pin their hopes on a Nordstrom or even a nearby Nordstrom Rack.

The mall, set to open in October 2014, is owned by Benderson Development and Taubman, the owner of upscale regional malls, including International Plaza in Tampa.

Taubman had a deal with Nordstrom when the project was first under development in 2007, but that deal was terminated when the mall was put on hold as the economy took a nose dive. Karen McDonald, the director of communications at Taubman, said that the mall construction has not been without its financial woes.

"When we started, the economy was in a bad condition for the world in general, so we pulled back until conditions improved," said McDonald. Nordstrom said they currently do not have a plan for a store in the mall.

"We are open to discussion about serving Sarasota in the future, and we have great relations with Taubman. Opening a store there could be a possibility some day, but we are not planning on it now," said Colin Johnson, Nordstrom's public relations specialist in a phone interview with the Herald.

Nordstrom officials also said that the speculation around a Nordstrom Rack, the retailer's outlet store, opening in the vacant Circuit City space in University Park is simply a rumor.

Johnson said rumors are often rampant when there is a new project or an open space, but Nordstrom has no current plans of opening a Rack on University. The closest one now in planning is in Jacksonville.

Nordstrom plans to open a Rack in Jacksonville in the fall and a full store there next year.

McDonald, communications director with Taubman, said she believes the University Town Center will be a large success with or without Nordstrom.

"About half of the stores coming to the mall will be new to the area, and the shopping center will help keep dollars in the area," McDonald said.

She pointed out that the fall 2014 grand opening will be close to the holidays, providing an immediate boom in business.

When it comes to classifying the new center, McDonald prefers the term "upper moderate," explaining that there will be something for everyone.

Renderings of the new mall look similar to the International Plaza in Tampa, also owned by Taubman. McDonald said that the two centers will be comparable, but not identical.

"No two of our malls are exactly the same," she said. "We like to have a tailored experience with a different look and feel at each location."

While McDonald would not comment on which stores and restaurants have been negotiating for space in the mall, she says they are having no trouble filling spots.

As usual for new malls, she added, there will be a handful of spots available for lease when the mall opens.

This fall, about a year before the mall's grand opening, Taubman will announce which retailers and restaurants have finalized lease agreements.

The mall will include a play area for kids, possibly a spa, free wifi, a spacious, hotel-style lobby near the main elevators, and a series of restaurants near the main entrance.

Ron Lock, the vice president of planning and design, said the $315 million project was designed with the environment in mind.

"There will be skylights with high energy efficient glass that will keep heat out, and the layout will be light and airy," Lock said. "We like our shopping centers to have elements of surprise."

When designing the skylights, Lock said they did a study of the sun's east and west locations to ensure that the sun does not glare in customers' eyes.

The new mall will also be fitted with energy efficient LED lights that Lock said will provide a stunning look in the evenings.

There will be seating available with electrical outlets throughout for visitors to plug in their iPads and laptops, he added.

The project will create about 1,000 construction jobs and about 2,000 permanent jobs when the center opens.

While McDonald said she cannot tell how much the mall will make on its opening day, she knows it is opening with much anticipation.

She has experienced rocky openings in the past. For example, International Plaza opened the week of Sept. 11, 2001, also in a tropical storm, but still managed to have a successful opening day.

"We never know what to expect, but we are hoping for the best," McDonald said.

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