UNIVERSITY PARK -- Concrete walls rise out of the ground in a construction dirt bowl in University Park that will soon be polished off to reveal a gem of shopping for the region.
The Mall at University Town Center is on schedule, officials say.
The massive mall near Interstate 75 and University Parkway is set for an Oct. 16, 2014 opening. It is designed to draw local shoppers from as far south as North Fort Myers, said Mark Chait, executive director of leasing for Benderson Development's properties in the southeast.
Benderson has a lot going on along the University Parkway corridor with five shopping centers and its corporate headquarters office space. The coming Mall at UTC will top them all in terms of glitz and draw. It is set to be a regional -- and even national -- centerpiece that together with rowing, polo and other sports facilities, hotels and upscale restaurants will be hub for shopping and tourism.
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The $315 million, 880,000-square-foot mall will be a mix of the Mall at Millenia in Orlando and International Plaza in Tampa -- both Taubman Centers' malls, as is University Town Center.
Each Benderson shopping center along the University corridor has its purpose, attracting local residents, snowbirds wanting familiar foods and bargains, some moderately upscale shopping, and soon, more luxury and destination shopping for both those around the corner and shoppers willing to drive an hour or more.
"The trade area isn't the immediately surrounding communities," Chait said. "The trade area that we and our partners at Taubman look at is 1.2 million people."
Chait said the draw is regional for a couple of reasons, including the retail power in the area.
"The significance and the quality of the retailers, and the accessibility to 75 and the proximity to local communities is a part of it," Chait said
A second phase featuring two hotels, condominium homes and pad sites will fill the remaining 200 acres owned by Benderson.
Construction has not yet started on those elements.
Taubman is handling leasing for the Mall at UTC, and other than Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy's and Dillard's, the company is keeping a list of 115 tenants -- and an additional fourth anchor store -- under wraps for now. More than half of those tenants are not yet in the market, and the interest from prospective stores is great, said Karen MacDonald, director of communications at Taubman.
"Leasing has a timeline, our goals that they're following are right in line where we should be," MacDonald said.
Taubman officials are getting out of the company's Michigan headquarters and into the greater Sarasota market to talk to potential tenants, retailers and even local residents to see which stores they want in the mall, MacDonald said.
"We also get calls from retailers that let us know perhaps they're seeing a lot of credit-card holders going to other locations further away where they have a store," she said. "We always try to have some local flavor to our shopping centers as well and have a handful of local retails and food specialty stores."
Michael Valentino Jr., who opened Valentino Pizzeria Trattoria at the Shoppes at University Town Center on Cooper Creek Boulevard in January, is glad the mall is coming, both as a shopper and for his business.
"Wow, this is going to be nice," Valentino said. "Finally, we're getting stuff that we need."
Mall making waves for rowing
Business folks like to throw around the word "synergy" when two projects create a common energy, and it's more than just a catchy line for the Nathan Benderson Park rowing venue's relationship with the Mall at UTC.
"There's no question that there's interest between the two as far as sponsorships," said Paul Blackketter, president of Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates, which oversees the rowing venue and operations.
The two projects are side by side, connected by a Cattleman Road extension due to open May 23, that will run from University Parkway to Fruitville Road.
The Sarasota County public park has Blackketter, a Benderson employee, to head up efforts to land a bid for the 2017 World Rowing Championships. Much of his efforts are on raising money to finish construction of the venue, including the boat house, grandstand, a trail and a wave attenuation system.
The 2013-14 state budget includes $5 million as long as Gov. Rick Scott doesn't veto it. That money will help, but future state and local funds are uncertain. Sarasota County Commissioners are urging Blackketter to seek corporate sponsors to help reach the $20 million goal to complete work. That's $15 million Blackketter must raise to complete construction for the 2016 World Rowing Cup. They are also trying to win the 2017 world rowing championships.
"A lot of folks investing in the mall are looking to potentially become investors into the facility as well," Blackketter said. Those opportunities include all levels of sponsorship, including naming rights, he added.
The goal is to be a self-sustaining center.
"When we get the boathouse and become fully operational, other centers have demonstrated that you can be self-sustaining with operations," he said.
Coming and going
Beyond the mall, Benderson has a pipeline of businesses that have recently opened or will open in the coming year.
Work is progressing on Nordstrom Rack near Total Wine at the Shoppes at UTC. The 35,000-square-foot store is set to open in the fall, Chait said.
Nordstrom Rack is a Nordstrom outlet store that sells items at a 50 to 60 percent discount.
"We're excited to have found this terrific location that will enable us to bring the Rack treasure hunt experience to our customers in the Sarasota-Bradenton metro area and throughout Sarasota County," Geevy Thomas, president of Nordstrom Rack, said in a statement. "We look forward to getting our doors open and serving customers at the Shoppes at University Town Center."
Ashley Furniture HomeStores will also be going in near Nordstrom Rack in 2014. The store was originally slated for the shopping center in 2011 when the Manatee County Planning Commission approved variances to allow expansion of the former Circuit City space. The closest HomeStores are in Brandon and Pinellas Park.
Sarasota County is planning to open the Cattleman Road extension on May 24 to drivers, exposing them to both the Nathan Benderson Park, named after the late founder of Benderson Development, where a rowing venue is being built, and the shopping that awaits at the other end.
LA Fitness opened its newest gym April 19 at 8502 Cooper Creek Blvd.
"They built a tremendous facility. There aren't many full service fitness facilities anymore," Chait said. "The fitness industry has changed and a lot of people have morphed away from that full service fitness facility, but LA Fitness as a company has fully embraced it."
An 8,000-square-foot Fidelity Investments office will be built on a pad site near Super Target at University Town Center, Chait said, and is expected to open in September.
At The Market at UTC, anchored by The Fresh Market and Kohl's, Earth Fruits Yogurt recently opened and a new gym called Orange Theory is coming July 9.
The gym, at 5275 University Parkway, uses heart rate-based treadmill interval training, indoor rowing and weight training blocks to build a workout in a class setting, according to the website. Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson is one of the partners for the location, Chait said.
The 225,000-square-foot shopping center has seen the most new tenants because it is Benderson's newest on the University Parkway corridor, Chait said. But not all projects pan out. The Red Elephant closed in April after three years in business. A Brooklyn Water Bagel Co., announced to go beside Tijuana Flats, fell through because the franchise operator couldn't secure financing, Chait said. He's still seeking out a bagel shop to fulfill customer demand.
Four other deals are pending for more tenants in the plaza, Chait added.
Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.