Real estate developer Nathan Benderson dies at 94

Nathan Benderson, patriarch of the massive Benderson Development company, and a man known for generous support of philanthropic causes, has died at 94.

He remained active until his final days, riding his bicycle to work, and staying involved with his company and favorite causes, such as humane treatment for animals. He died April 7, 2012, after a short illness with his family and loved ones at his side.

Benderson Development, the company he founded in Buffalo, N.Y., 60 years ago, became one of the largest privately held real estate companies in the United States.

The company began moving into the Manatee-Sarasota market in the 1990s. Benderson's national headquarters

were moved to University Park in southern Manatee County in 2004.

"I started coming down here about nine years ago, and I liked what I saw," Mr. Benderson said in a Herald interview that year. "There's a lot of room for a lot of good things down here."

One of Benderson Development's first big local projects, the former Sarasota Outlet Mall, became the University Center, a now thriving retail center near Interstate 75 and University Parkway. It would be one of the first of many large Benderson shopping centers built or planned locally.

The company operates in more than 35 states, owning and managing more than 25 million square feet of retail space.

Another 4.5 million square feet of leasable space is under development, including a mega-mall project just south of University Center.

Mr. Benderson was born Nov. 20, 1917, in Buffalo, N.Y. The eldest son of Isaac and Minnie Wolf Benderson, he saw his parents lose their home during the Great Depression.

He left school to assist his family and at age 16, he formed his first company, Bison Bottle Co., taking advantage of the market for used bottles. At the age of 18, he provided the down payment for his parents to again own a home.

As a young man, he became a volunteer and contributor to the Jewish Federation of Greater Buffalo and the Israel Bonds Organization, according to information provided by his family.

He would become similarly active after moving to Manatee County, serving on the board of directors of the Sarasota Manatee Jewish Housing Council and making the lead gift toward the establishment of the Benderson Family Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. He also served on the board of the Jewish Family and Children's Service of Sarasota/Manatee.

He invested much time and energy into the development of the Honor Animal Rescue organization, purchasing and improving an 8 acre ranch on Lorraine Road for a dog and cat shelter. He also created Nate's Place, adjacent to his company's office for the rescue and adoption of pets.

Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said Sunday that she had just taped a documentary with Mr. Benderson about his love of animals.

"He wanted to meet with me, when he fell ill," she said of the effort to create a no-kill zone in Manatee County.

Rob Oglesby, president of Honor Animal Rescue, called Mr. Benderson an amazing man.

"The organization wouldn't be what it is without him," Oglesby said. "He called over every day and looked at all the cats and dogs. He really enjoyed that."

As recently as April 1, Mr. Benderson spoke to volunteers at the animal rescue. On March 18, he took part in the grand opening of Chabad of Bradenton and Lakewood Ranch, placing a mezuzah, a verse from the Torah, on the front door.

The Sarasota County Commission named "Nathan Benderson Park" after him, an aquatic sports center near the Manatee-Sarasota line, which is projected to become of the world's top-ranked rowing venues.

A funeral service is set for 11 a.m. Wednesday, April 11, in the Main Sanctuary of Temple Beth Zion, 805 Delaware Avenue, Buffalo, N.Y.

He is survived by Dora Benderson; three sons: Ronald, Robert, and Randy; eight grandchildren; three great grandchildren; by Anne M. Virag, Cyndi Leonard, Allison and Ryan Leonard, and Cindy Benderson.

Flowers gratefully declined. Contributions may be made in his memory to Jewish Community Center of Greater Buffalo, 2640 North Forest Road, Getzville, NY 14068 or Honor Sanctuary Animal Rescue, 8435 Cooper Creek Blvd, University Park, FL 34201.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, at 941-745-7021 or tweet @jajones1