Mall at University Town Center project right on schedule as year ends

jajones1@bradenton.comDecember 28, 2013 

UNIVERSITY PARK -- At year's end, there was a little more than nine months remaining before the opening of The Mall at University Town Center.

Nine months, 18 days, 18 hours and 18 minutes, to be precise, until the grand opening, according to the clock on the mall's website, as this story was being written on Friday.

Despite the complexity of the project, involving more than 1,000 construction jobs, general manager Octavio Ortiz said The Mall is right on schedule.

As is the all-important leasing of space within the 880,000-square-foot shopping center.

"At the end of the day, it's pretty much where it needs to be," Ortiz said Friday.

That's despite the wettest summer in recent memory, during which heavy rainfall finally put an end to a lingering drought.

Shoppers at The District at UTC, a collection of big-box store including SuperTarget and Best Buy, seemed keenly aware of the work going on next door.

"I think it's great. I am delighted they are bringing all this in, all the new shopping," Anita Orwig said.

She believes The Mall, and the rowing venue next door, will bring the international spotlight to the area and increase her property value.

But she worried about the increase in traffic and getting to the shopping from her neighborhood off Lockwood Ridge Road.

"I think they will have to find a way to handle all the cars," Orwig said.

Another shopper, a man who splits his year between Sarasota and Cincinnati, was aware that completion of The Mall was looming less than 10 months away.

"I am looking forward to it, but it will be an interesting traffic situation," said the man, who declined to provide his name.

Ground was broken in October 2012 for the $315 million, two-story, upscale mall just south of University Parkway, and just west of Interstate 75.

To stay on track to open more than 100 stores and restaurants -- about half of which will be new to the market -- requires hitting many milestones, Ortiz said.

The biggest stores planned for the mall include a 180,000-square-foot Dillard's, a 160,000-square-foot Macy's and an 80,000-square-foot Saks Fifth Avenue.

No longer is the mall all girders and support beams. Solid walls have been added in some places.

Recently announced as coming to the mall are The Capital Grille, Cheesecake Factory, Kona Grill, Seasons 52 and American Eagle Outfitters,

Taubman Centers, Inc. and Benderson Development Company, LLC are partnering on the project, located just to the north and within eyesight of Nathan Benderson Park.

The park, which will host the world rowing championships in 2017 and world cup pentathlon events in 2014, 2015 and 2016, could help bring the need for new hotel rooms to the area to host thousands of visitors.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1

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