SARASOTA COUNTY -- Westfield Sarasota Square Mall is undergoing some major changes as the region's largest mall property refuses to get lost in retail madness.
Sarasota Square Mall is the closest full-line indoor mall to southern Manatee County and changes are more noticeable there than what's happening at DeSoto Square and at Southgate, soon to be named Westfield Siesta Key.
Even when the 880,000-square-foot Mall at University Town Center opens Oct. 16, Sarasota Square will remain the largest indoor mall property in the two-county area at more than 1 million square feet. That could change if the Mall at UTC expands one day with a fourth anchor and more in-line tenant space -- part of the original plan there.
H&M, the Swedish based retailer, is expected to open at 21,000 square-foot clothing store at Sarasota Square in the Spring of 2015.
Other major announcements are coming this year about heavy-weight tenants to be added at the Sarasota Square Mall and more detailed plans at Southgate. Plans include a movie theater for the Saks Fifth Avenue building. Westfield officials would not divulge the new tenants for either property, but a representative who was not authorized to comment said that details are be
ing finalized for a major announcement.
While Southgate has a massive renovation plan to address vacancies from Saks Fifth Avenue, Willliams-Sonoma and others, Sarasota Square Mall is filling vacancies on the fly and will be nearly 100 percent full when the mini-anchors come on board.
Several smaller moves have happened to make way for major tenants by shuffling existing store locations. Bond Jewelers, Journey's and Verizon Wireless have all swapped spaces and opened in new store fronts to make way for a massive project on the mall's J.C. Penney wing, stretching to the center court.
Ten units are walled off from the former Verizon Wireless store to the temporary Gulf Gate Library. Permits show the mall is demolishing walls to make one large 21,000-square-foot space.
Stores that used to be in some of those spaces included Vitamin World, Rhythm Fashion and Payless Shoe Source. Build-A-Bear Workshop also departed the mall in July, and is walled off for another store planned in its place.
Verizon Wireless is still open in temporary digs as a new storefront is being built.
The mall has a tenant lined up for the temporary Gulf Gate Library space as well.
The library will be closed Jan. 3 as staff will move books and materials to the new Gulf Gate Library to open later that month at 7112 Curtiss Ave., said Jason Bartolone, spokesman for Sarasota County government.
Permits have been filed for a 2,000-square-foot Atomic Tattoos & Piercing, revealing at least one possible new store. The upscale tattoo parlor opened its first mall locations in 2010 iin the Westfield Brandon Mall and now has nine Tampa Bay locations. The Lakeland shop was featured on CMT's "Hillbillies for Hire."
With all these moves, Sarasota Square is still catering to its core audience -- the middle class -- rather than the luxury market.
Whatever Westfield plans for either mall, the Australian-based company's singular focus in the region is entertainment and dining.
That has already been seen at properties in Brandon, Citrus Park and Countryside properties.
Citrus Park, which at one time was struggling like DeSoto Square, has turned around with H&M, BJ's Restaurants and Brewhouse, Dick's Sport Goods, Brighton Collectibles and Paul Mitchell. At Countryside, Whole Foods Store is going inside the first level of a former Sears and the Sears Auto Center closed to make way for a new tenant. In 2011, Countryside also opened the Cobb Countryside 12 movie theaters to offer up another entertainment option to go with the ice skating rink operated by Tampa Bay Skating Academy.
At Sarasota Square, Westfield already added Costco as a destination and experience driver and in 2011 AMC added an IMAX screen -- the only in the two-county area. In Southgate, Bravo! Cucina Italiana announced it is coming and bringing some architectural improvements to the ceiling. A fountain area also has been added.
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.