Benderson buys Dillard's Southgate Mall building

SARASOTA -- Benderson Development Co. is looking to partner with rival mall developer Westfield after purchasing the Southgate Dillard's for $10 million.

Benderson closed on a deal with the Little Rock, Ark., retailer Friday.

"We love the property," said Todd Mathes, director of development for Benderson. "We think it's a tremendous location. We love U.S. 41 from Osprey north to Sarasota. We're doing a lot of redevelopment."

Dillard's is opening a two-level, 180,000-square-foot store at the Mall at University Town Center on Oct. 16, an upgrade from the 97,000-square-foot Southgate store. It will be the first new Dillard's since 2010.

Mathes expects Dillard's to be out of its Southgate space by the end of the week, but doesn't have a tenant lined up for the Dillard's parcel, which is 7.4 acres. The land and building are assessed at a combined $6.3 million, according to the Sarasota County Property Appraiser.

"We're talking to a lot of different folks and hope to see soon what Westfield plans are and see what the further lineup report is and will make a decision," Mathes said.

So far, Westfield announced it will bring an upscale movie theater with dining where Saks Fifth Avenue now stands and will bring a BRAVO! Cucina Italiana restaurant to the mall and will rename the center Westfield Siesta Key once redevelopment is complete.

The new development partnership makes for strange bedfellows considering the history between the two companies.

When the University at Town Center received ap

proval from the Sarasota County Commission in 2007, Westfield appealed the decision arguing Benderson Development's traffic counts were too low for its mall project because it reclassified the use of certain roads. The litigation ended in 2008 when an administrative law judge said Benderson followed the rules. By that time, the recession hit and the mall was put on hold until 2011.

Westfield's appeal was going on at the same time it filed its original plans to redevelop Southgate mall eyeing a 2010 completion, but that project was stalled as well because of the recession. A redeveloped Southgate was supposed to be completed around the same time that the original Mall at UTC was to open, in fall 2010.

Holding no grudges

Mathes is putting all those battles in the past.

"We're sure together we're going to do something great," Mathes said. "Prior litigation for approval for permits from another developer in the same industry is part of the process."

Westfield is looking forward to working with Benderson.

"We have not been informed of the new owners' plans for the Dillard's building, but expect any new tenant in the building will be consistent with our vision for the center as the premier boutique shopping, dining, leisure and entertainment destination for Sarasota residents and visitors alike," a Westfield spokesman said. "We look forward to making some exciting announcements in the coming weeks and months about new arrivals to Southgate as the center continues its resort-inspired transformation to Westfield Siesta Key."

Dillard's did not respond to a request for comment.

Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095.