Homewood Suites, Bass Pro set for University Town Center projects

cschelle@bradenton.comMay 25, 2014 

UNIVERSITY PARK -- Retailers who don't have plans to go inside the new Mall at University Town Center are trying their best to get as close to the front door as possible.

Bass Pro Shop and boutique retailers, along with hotelier Hilton Homewood Suites, will form a fort around the mall, hoping to capture customers passing through the busy shopping hub at Cattlemen Road and University Parkway. Work on the hotel will start this year. Bass Pro is not set to open until 2015 or even 2016, according to sources familiar with retail development here.

That Bass Pro Shops is coming to University Park is nothing new. Confirmation has been around for at least two years as the company tried to explain how Sarasota appeared in a store catalog for future locations.

Bass Pro Shops has also appeared in video renderings of the UTC property beside the mall. What's more definitive now is that the outdoor sporting goods store is keying in on its date, according to an expert not authorized to publicly comment.

Retailers at the International Council of Shopping Centers Global Retail Real Estate Convention in Las Vegas last week continued to have high interest in the University Parkway corridor, as University Park-based Benderson Development Co. pursues tenants for its existing projects. New retailers will be ready to build in the coming 12 to 18 months.

Construction will start in the near future at additional retail sites on North Cattlemen Road adjacent to Fidelity, Panera, Ethan Allen and Florida Blue, said Mark Chait, Benderson Development's director of leasing for the Southeast. The buildings are in the design phase.

"You're going to see an exciting mix of boutique retailers and restaurants and a continuation of the tenant mix," Chait said. "It's going to be new people to our corridor, and I think it's going to be real exciting for the area."

Interviewed last week in the Benderson Development Booth at RECon, Chait said several retailers not yet in Florida are eager to come to the state and to the Bradenton-Sarasota region.

"We are working with several retailers who would be new not just to the market of Sarasota, but to the state of Florida," Chait said.

On the east side of the mall, commercial office space and retail will be the first components under development and will start in 2015, giving time for the mall to breathe, Chait said. The overall UTC property can have up to 500 hotel rooms as part of the prior approvals and still has about a million square feet left of commercial/retail space Benderson can build, along with 220,000 square feet of office space and 1,750 multi-family residential units.

Fishing for Bass Pro

The Bass Pro Shops poised to be built on Benderson-owned property, likely aiming for a 2016 opening, could be administratively approved within the development rights for land west of the mall beside Interstate 75. Nothing has been submitted yet for a 2014 opening or construction start.

Having a Bass Pro sandwiched here between one under construction in Brandon and another at the Gulf Coast Town Center in Fort Myers shouldn't be a problem. The company touts that the average Bass Pro shopper will travel more than 50 miles. For residents in rural Manatee, Sarasota and even DeSoto and Hardee counties, the drive could be worth it. The Fort Myers location is 88 miles from University Town Center, while the Brandon location is 45 miles away.

The local store's footprint is expected to be smaller, however, because of the two other Bass Pro Shops.

Bass Pro Shops opening in Daytona Beach and Gainesville in 2016 are the smaller prototype stores the company is using in its aggressive expansion. Those stores are 70,000- to 80,000-square-foo Outpost stores, while the Brandon store is a 140,000-square-foot Outdoor World.

While at RECon in Vegas, Bass Pro also made it known that its 35,000-square-foot formats are available for development.

Bass Pro broke ground in April on its Brandon location, but not before it asked Hillsborough County for incentive money. The retailer eventually won a $6.25 million subsidy after the county pulled back on a promised $15 million incentive. These incentive deals are often a must-have in a Bass Pro deal, according to another retail real estate source.

Some Sarasota County incentives to award money for job creation and relocation are anonymous at first, masked with code names like "Project Big Catch," until the business opens. Depending on the structure of the incentive, it can be a win.

"Incentives shouldn't necessarily be looked at as a negative. Many times, there have been bonds floated through where the payback is through sales tax receipts," said Mark Gilbert, executive vice president of Capital Markets Group for Cushman & Wakefield. "It makes sense depending on the economics of a particular deal."

The Mall at University Town Center has room to expand with an additional department store as well as inline retail and a possible parking deck to serve the department store, said John Eggert, development director of Taubman Centers, Benderson's partner in developing the mall. But Bass Pro would not be a fit for the Mall at UTC.

"Typically they're not an anchor you're going to add in with your traditional department stores," Eggert said. "It happens, and it has happened ... People are starting to think outside the box. You're seeing malls with Neiman Marcus and Target."

Bass Pro typically aligns themselves with so-called value centers that have retailers like Ross, T.J. Maxx and Burlington Coat Factory, he said. Bealls Outlet, Ross and Marshalls all have a presence on Cooper Creek Boulevard.

Hotel on its way

Construction will begin on a 116-room, five-story Homewood Suites hotel this year. The hotel, which features a pool, sport court, courtyard and outdoor seating areas, will serve both the busy retail corridor as well as athletes visiting Nathan Benderson Park.

The hotel is one of two planned for Benderson's University Town Center project. It will be located on the southwest portion of the intersection of Cattlemen and DeSoto roads, adjacent to the roundabout, according to plans filed with the county.

Homewood Suites is a Hilton brand that also has locations on Fruitville Road in Sarasota.

If the project receives all the necessary county approvals, construction is set to begin in May with completion targeted for August, according to plans filed with the county. According to a development agreement, the hotel has to include New Urbanism design principles.

Plans for this parcel have long been in the works for University Park, with the Sarasota County commissioners first approving a project called the Sarasota Interstate Park of Commerce in 1993 allowing for homes, hotels, industrial, retail and office space on 276 acres by D. Huntington Hearin Jr.

Benderson Development began working on revised plans in 2000. The land is already zoned for commercial use and has a master plan in place, so the hotel can be administratively approved, said Tom Polk, director of Sarasota County Planning and Development Services.

The hotel is expected to help meet the demands of events like the Modern Pentathlon and the World Rowing Championships over the next five years at Nathan Benderson Park and other area venues. It will also serve visiting business clients for the retail hub, which is expected to grow once the 880,000-square-foot Mall at University Town Center opens Oct. 16. More retail and commercial space is planned east of the mall property, along with 1,750 multi-family homes.

Virginia Hayley, president of Visit Sarasota County, hasn't received Benderson's details of the proposal but knows how critical the added hotel rooms will be for that area.

"We know having new hotels by Nathan Benderson Park will be critical for the major events that we have won -- such as World Rowing 2017 -- and the many others we are bidding on," Hayley said.

Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.

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