The countdown to the debut of the latest -- and largest -- crown jewel of regional economic development stands at under four weeks. The Oct. 16 opening of the Mall at University Town Center signals a game-changing moment in the retail history of Manatee and Sarasota counties.
With 880,000 square feet of retail space, three major anchors and about 130 speciality shops and restaurants, the $315 million mall is projected to generate $500 million in sales revenue.
With around 2,000 employees at the mall, job growth builds considerably on the project's economic impact.
Nearby retail development is also expanding, and 500 hotel rooms and 1,750 residential units are in store for the area -- adding fuel to this powerful economic engine.
Those hotels and others around the counties will certainly be a destination for shoppers coming from around Southwest Florida and beyond, building on an already tremendous tourism industry.
We expect Anna Maria Island resorts to benefit, too, from those who want a beach experience along with high-end shopping.
Located at the intersection of Interstate 75 and University Parkway just across the Manatee County line in Sarasota, the mall will enjoy easy access from interstate travelers.
As one of the few upscale retail centers between Tampa and Naples, University Town Center also attracts attention for being the only fully enclosed mall to open this year and only the third in the country since 2006. Those distinctions put the region in the national spotlight.
Benderson Development Company and Taubman Centers, partners in the mall project, certainly hold high expectations. Randy Benderson, president of the development company, previously described those with this statement: "The shopping center, in conjunction with the Nathan Benderson Rowing Facility, will be a world-class destination and a tremendous community benefit for generations to come."
The rowing park, adjacent to the mall, has already generated a great deal of buzz around the world by attracting huge athletic events in the years to come. The state-of-the-art facility will be a strong economic and tourism tool all its own.
All of this explosive growth prompted the Florida Department of Transportation to accelerate a project to revamp the I-75/University Parkway interchange. In approving the state's first diverging diamond design, the innovative engineering should speed traffic through the intersection -- vital even today and moreso come the mall's opening and the Christmas shopping season.
Even ahead of mid-October, law enforcement authorities are preaching patience to motorists while either heading to the mall or trying to maneuver through heavy traffic.
Patience indeed. The pace could be maddening, especially during the long Christmas season, but forbearance should keep tempers from flaring and nerves from fraying.
Both the Manatee and Sarasota sheriff's offices intend to increase patrols during the mall's four-day grand opening weekend to ensure public safety and the efficient movement of vehicles. Extra signage will direct motorists and warn of potential delays -- which should be expected.
To ease congestion, early next year Benderson plans to operate a trolley service on several key routes: one circles Cooper Creek in two loops and another connects Lakewood Ranch Medical Center with UTC. Two others serve Sarasota south of the sprawling UTC campus.
Once operational, those trolleys will allow shoppers to escape the frustration from navigating the expected heavy traffic.
The Benderson family's vision, which sat dormant during the recession, is now coming to life. The anticipation is palatable around the region.
Keep track of facts, figures and news about the Mall at University Town Center with the Herald’s month-long daily Countdown to the Grand Opening.