UNIVERSITY PARK -- It promises to be the biggest tourist attraction in an area that is already full of them.
Local law enforcement is working to ensure that traffic patterns around the Mall at University Town Center remain as normal as possible during the attraction's opening next month.
The Manatee County and Sarasota County sheriff's office, Florida Department of Transportation and Florida Highway Patrol have been meeting with the mall's management in past months to prepare for the mall's Oct. 16 opening, Sarasota County Sheriff's Office Captain Ron Locke said. The mall is located at the intersection of Interstate 75 and University Parkway in Sarasota County.
"I just think the people who plan on coming there should exercise patience as we are trying to make it the safest possible environment that we can," Locke said.
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The Sarasota County Sheriff's Office plans to have an increased presence around the mall during the four-day grand opening weekend. There will be signs around both Sarasota and Manatee counties directing people and informing of possible delays, but Locke isn't sure yet how far in advance of the opening.
"I imagine that signage will go out at least a few days ahead of time," Locke said. His office will send out media releases detailing the recommended traffic patterns and will also post them on its social media accounts.
"We are obviously trying to prepare for the worst and hope for the best," the captain said.
But even with adequate planning, Locke said there may still be congestion around the area.
"Sometimes there are too many cars and not enough roadway," he said. "We are doing the best we can to alleviate that. We hope that the plan that we came up with will address that."
Since one of the mall's main entrances borders the Sarasota-Manatee county line, the Manatee County Sheriff's Office will also have an increased presence during that weekend.
"We are going to follow their (Sarasota sheriff's) lead," said Dave Bristow, spokesman for the Manatee County Sheriff's Office. "The traffic obviously will be bad for the first week or so. It will be bottlenecked into Manatee County, no doubt. We will work through it."
Bristow said if the Manatee County deputies aren't out on other calls, they will frequent the area during the opening weekend.
"Our deputies will be well aware of it," he said, adding that the traffic unit will always be available. "We will help out however we can."
The mall's management, Taubman Centers and Benderson Development Co., will also have its security company, Universal Services of America, with additional patrols around the mall during the opening, Locke said.
Octavio "Tav" Ortiz, general manager of The Mall at UTC, declined to comment on the specifics of the mall's security plan, including the number of security guards. But he did say that there will be plenty of security on site.
"Safety and security of shoppers and employees is the highest priority," Ortiz said. "We just don't release that information."
Ortiz confirmed that the mall's management has been coordinating closely with the local sheriff's offices "to ensure that traffic will continue to move efficiently to and from the shopping center and into the neighborhoods."
While the grand opening is expected to be one of the busiest times for the mall, Ortiz said the preparation for the increased traffic to the area will be beneficial in the future.
"By doing this, it will set the stage with government for partnerships in the future," he said.