Excitement builds along with massive Mall at University Town Center

Special to the HeraldJanuary 20, 2014 

As you drive by, it looks like an ordinary construction site.

Dust is in the air, construction workers are hard at work, drills hammering away.

But what's being built here is anything but ordinary.

The Mall at University Town Center, on University Parkway and Interstate 75 will have its grand opening Oct. 16.

"There will be 100 stores, along with sit-down restaurants in the 880,000-square-foot mall," said Octavio Ortiz, general manager for The Mall at University Town Center.

The anchor stores for the mall are Macy's, Dillard's and Saks Fifth Avenue, Ortiz said.

The Mall at University Town Center will have many ecological features. It will be a green building with efficient skylight glazing and a white roof to minimize heat gain.

Building materials such as paints, adhesives and flooring have low chemical emissions.

To promote the eco-friendly building, several components play in.

There will be energy conservation from LED lighting systems for the building interior and exterior as well as efficient landscaping and irrigation.

Alternative transportation will be encouraged with electric car charging stations,

bike paths and racks.

Fun activities will keep customers of all ages occupied in the mall. A children's playground, guest services such as wi-fi through the entire mall and charging stations for electronics.

"We feel the Sarasota market is underserved when it comes to better retail offerings, and there is a void in the local market for a dominant fashion shopping destination that The Mall at University Town Center will fill," Ortiz said. "The mall will serve the needs of Sarasota's significant tourist and seasonal resident populations, especially those in search of more and better shopping options."

The Mall at University Town Center is the first regional shopping mall built in the local market in 35 years.

"The project (will provide) approximately 1,000 construction jobs and 2,000 permanent jobs once the shopping center opens," Ortiz said.

Ortiz said the mall's trade area is south of St. Petersburg and north of Fort Myers.

"The trade area has a population of about 1.4 million people and 546,000 households," he said. "We also take into consideration the 125,000 seasonal (residents) and the 4 million to 5 million visitors who have an economic impact of more than $1.9 billion," Ortiz said.

The Mall at University Town Center will compete with International Plaza in Tampa for customers.

"I'm very happy that the mall is opening because it (will) be close to my house," said Audrey Sellers, a freshman at Saint Stephen's Episcopal School.

Freshman Juliana Rodriguez at Saint Stephen's said the International Plaza in Tampa and Mall at University Town Center have great qualities, but "considering the new mall is closer, it definitely has a leg up," she said.

Ortiz said The Taubman Co., which is building the mall in Sarasota, also owns the Tampa mall.

With the mall under construction and customer excitement growing, Ortiz said he anticipates opening day will be booming.

"We look forward to seeing you Oct. 16," he said.

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