MANATEE -- "It's full speed ahead," for the construction of the Mall at University Town Center, said Mark Chait, Benderson Development LLC's executive director of leasing, to East Manatee Republican Club members Thursday at the Peridia Golf and Country Club.
"Some of the biggest foundations," Chait has ever seen are being poured at the company's much-anticipated new retail hub, "one of only two malls that are being built now in the United States."
"We are pouring this week," said Chait who expects the mall's steel skeleton to rise out of the ground "within weeks."
He confirmed, to cheers from the mostly female audience, that the mall's targeted opening date of October 2014 was set in stone and said The Mall at University Town Center will be Southwest Florida's newest retail development drawing on "a five-county trade area" from Fort Myers to St. Petersburg.
The $315 million development under construction is a partnership with Taubman Centers, Inc. and will be a state-of-the-art, two-level, enclosed mall featuring an 80,000-square-foot Saks Fifth Avenue, a 180,000-square-foot Dillard's and a 160,000-square-foot Macy's. The shopping center will also include more than 100 specialty stores and restaurants, approximately "half of which are anticipated to be new to the market," Chait said.
Benderson and Taubman, who is doing the leasing, were still seeking a fourth anchor that Chait could not yet name. "Nordstrom, we want Nordstrom," shouted several attendees in the apparently well-informed and well-heeled audience.
"The University Town Center will be a catalyst for decades to come and an economic driver for both tourism and our regional economy," said Neil Spirtas, the
vice president of the Manatee Chamber. "The new shops, the World Aquatic Rowing Center and infrastructure improvements when completed are features that will only enhance an already high quality of life in the two-county area."
In a telephone interview, Florida Retail Federation's spokesman John Fleming called the development "notable and a sign that the economy is turning around and that retailers are investing in growth again."
Located at I-75 and University Parkway, the area's most heavily traveled interchange, The Mall at University Town Center will "change everything for the better and will improve values for miles around," said Pat Neal, a longtime Benderson friend and partner, and the builder and developer of homes in several nearby communities including Central Park, that stand to benefit from strengthened property values.
"Manatee County will benefit from real estate value enhancement," Neal said, but Sarasota County "will benefit from most of the sales tax" from the Mall's estimated first year sales of $440 million.
Chait estimated the mall's construction will create 1,000 jobs in addition to the 2,000 long-term jobs expected upon completion.
"Our philosophy," said Chait, "is always about long-term growth." It is different, he said from other real estate development companies, he called "merchant builders" who are more interested in "developing, building, leasing and then selling" property.
"We like to be in touch with our properties on a daily basis," said Chait. the ultimate goal, he said, is about "creating a sense of place," where people will want to shop, live and be entertained.