Mall at UTC

Law enforcement, mall officials prepare for traffic at Mall at UTC

UNIVERSITY PARK -- Avoiding gridlock for the opening of the new mall has been a high priority for everyone involved in its development and opening.

That includes developers, officials from both counties and state transportation officials who want to keep traffic flowing.

Local law enforcement is working to ensure traffic patterns around The Mall at University Town Center remain as normal as possible during the attraction's grand opening this week.

The Manatee and Sarasota county sheriff's offices, Florida Department of Transportation and Florida Highway Patrol have met with mall management over the past months to prepare, Sarasota County Sheriff's Office Capt. Ron Locke said. The mall is 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.

The Sarasota County Sheriff's Office plans to have an increased presence around the mall during the four-day grand opening weekend.

"Benderson is working very well with both counties: Sarasota and Manatee," said Octavio Ortiz, the mall's general manager.

It really has been a collaborative effort with all the agencies, including the sheriffs offices, Florida Highway Patrol and the state Department of Transportation, he added.

"We are really trying to make sure cars can get to and from the shopping center as well as the surrounding neighborhoods," Ortiz said. "I think we have a great plan in place and obviously we are going to do everything we can."

Signs direct people to the mall and to the various entrances.

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 this week.

"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 owners, 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.

Ortiz confirmed that mall 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.