UNIVERSITY PARK -- The highly anticipated opening of The Mall at University Town Center is expected to lure out-of-town visitors to its vast array of more than 100 stores.
Several mall retailers and restaurants are offering visitors who travel more than 50 miles, and guests staying at area hotels, special savings as part of a Passport to Shopping program. Visitors are encouraged to stop by the mall's customer service desk or check with their hotel's concierge for a passport voucher and information about the program.
"We're excited to be here and we look forward to building many long-term partnerships for the benefit of our visitors and the entire community," said Kim Dominguez, marketing and sponsorship director for the Mall at UTC.
The Passport to Shopping offers start Oct. 16 and are valid through Dec. 31.
The mall will produce a new passport with additional offers valid from January through June, she said.
Ten area hotels have partnered with the Mall at UTC to take advantage of the custom packages, which include complimentary breakfast for two, a $25 UTC gift card and a Passport to Shopping voucher.
Buffalo Lodging Associates, owners of the Courtyard Sarasota University Park/Lakewood Ranch Area and the Hampton Inn & Suites Sarasota/Lakewood Ranch, is offering packages with mall gift cards and special hotel perks to weekend business guests who stay from Thursday through Sunday, according to Judy Athari, director of sales for Buffalo Lodging.
The Courtyard offers a "Virtual Concierge" with information about special mall packages.
All the desk associates have been educated on the surrounding area and are familiar with the mall restaurants and shops since their new managers and employees have been hotel guests, Athari said.
"We're excited for the new opportunities the mall will bring and we appreciate all the great tenants and construction managers who have been staying at both of our hotels," Athari said.
At the Holiday Inn Lakewood Ranch on Osprey Drive, owned by Kinsman Hotel Associates, guests will be treated to a shopping extravaganza package sponsored by the hotel, according to Rob Ferguson, corporate director of sales.
"This extravaganza includes breakfast at Alamo Steakhouse, a $40 gift card, a king or double-bedded room, WiFi and complimentary hotel parking, a VIP welcome package from the mall, and transportation to the mall," Ferguson said.
A special rate will be available into early January, Ferguson added.
Hotel staff have also been treated to a few free dinners at some of the mall's new restaurants while they train staff for mock meals, Ferguson said.
As for area hotels set in the heart of Sarasota's cultural district, the luxury Hyatt Regency Sarasota on the Boulevard of the Arts will offer guests the mall's Passport to Savings program, as well as generous discounts on hotel food and beverages, and goodies such as tote bags and sweets to be found in their rooms from some of the mall shops, said Rhett Wilson, director of sales and marketing for the Hyatt Sarasota.
"We intend to offer all these specials through the holidays and possibly longer, depending on how the package performs," Wilson said.
As the Hyatt plans for its upcoming 40th anniversary in Sarasota, Wilson says the new mall will certainly enhance the local hospitality industry.
"This new development and the many corporate partners it will bring into our community will play a huge part in taking our area to the next level for both visitors and residents," Wilson said.
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter@MoschellaHerald.