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University Town Center Mall Breaks Ground

The upscale $350 million in University Park is slated to be open Oct. 16, 2014.

In two years time, Manatee and Sarasota counties will have a shared destination for high-end shopping.

Officials ceremoniously broke ground with confetti guns a blazing Monday afternoon on the 888,000-square-foot Mall at University Town Center located north of Nathan Benderson Park.

"The Mall at University Town Center solidifies the University area as the premier shopping destination in Southwest Florida," said Randy Benderson, president of Benderson Development Company. "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 $315 million mall is a partnership between developers Taubman Centers and University Park-based Benderson Development Co., and is pegged for an Oct. 16, 2014, opening.

The shopping will be plentiful and early estimates point to high-end with anchors Saks Fifth Avenue, Dillard's and Macy's already announced for the two-level mall, and 100-plus specialty shops and restaurants are yet to be named, and developers say that about half of the stores will be new to the Sarasota-Bradenton market. A fourth anchor store will also be announced at a later date.

"Retailer response to The Mall at University Town Center has been tremendous," said Taubman Chief Operating Officer William Taubman.  "We will feature many distinctive retailers not found anywhere else in the local market.  The shopping center will offer a distinctive collection of upscale fashion and lifestyle retailers as well as sit-down restaurants."

Sarasota County Commission Chairwoman Christine Robinson calls the mall "a legacy project."

"It's an economically diverse development offering new jobs and new job opportunities," she said. "The mall was created by a visionary public-private partnership and based on a sustainable concept that will become a national benchmark for combining a world-class rowing and recreational facility with a world-class commercial and residential center."

Analysts predict that it will take a few years for shoppers to take the drive from the Sarasota Bay and Longboat Key to essentially Lakewood Ranch to shop at the mall, the Herald-Tribune reports.

Yet, the very idea of building a mall is rare in this economy, the Herald-Tribune reports:

University Town Center will become only the second mall nationwide in any phase of construction this year, following the March opening of City Creek Center in Salt Lake City.

Though developers are expanding some properties in New York and elsewhere, and new malls plans are getting underway in places like Hawaii, traditional mall building has been scarce. Before the Utah property's opening, a new enclosed mall — save for discount outlet centers — hasn't been built since 2006, according to data collected by the Directory of Malls, which has been tracking properties since the 1970s.

“It is a good sign for the economy that malls are moving forward. They employ a lot of people,” Green said, adding that Taubman's decision to proceed with University Town Center is extraordinary, too, because of its location. “It is strange that it is happening in Florida, as opposed to markets that haven't been hit by the recession as hard.”

The economic contribution from the mall appears to be promising, according to Bradenton.com:

A typical regional mall will generate $450 in sales per square foot each year. That number rises to about $550 for more luxurious centers.

Even at conservative estimates, the University Town Center will produce about $440 million a year in local consumer spending. Counting the added shops they own in the area the total comes to $1.5 billion.

The mall also will lead to 1,000 temporary construction jobs and another 2,000 positions when it opens.

 The mall is just one piece in what will become a destination for all sorts of folks—not just shoppers.

The mall will be buffered by office space, 1,700 multi-family homes, hotels and the Florida World Aquatic Rowing Center. That area has seen its share of activity the past few years with Super Target, Best Buy and other stores sprouting up in the shadows of the development and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, the Sarasota Florida Blue center will celebrate its grand opening at 285 N. Cattlemen Road.

The Florida Blue center is described as "health care meets the Apple store" where you can shop for insurance plans, receive screenings and check-ups and attend health seminars.

Soon, folks won't have to battle Interstate 75 or a leisurely Honore Avenue to get from University Park to Fruitville. The North Cattleman Road extension is slated to be finished in March 2013.

Taubman also presented a $10,000 check on behalf of the mall to the Education Foundation of Sarasota County.

"The communities where we build our shopping centers are the key to our success," said Taubman. "We believe it is important to reciprocate and support our local community as well."

The mall also already has its own website at: www.themallatuniversitytowncenter.com.

University Town Center and Nathan Benderson Park Coverage:

  • Housing Change to University Parkway Project Denied
  • System Could Let You Walk On Water At Benderson Park Lake


Lance Lowery December 18, 2012 at 01:03 AM
Thank you so much Charles!
RGo January 18, 2013 at 08:00 PM
Will this new mall have an Apple Store? I am relocating to the area. Apple products are a staple in my family. Knowing that an Apple Store will be in this mall will save me the hassle of having to drive northward to Brandon, Tampa and/or Orlando and south to Estero. Can anyone confirm if this new mall will in fact have an Apple Store. Thanks.
Charles Schelle January 18, 2013 at 11:15 PM
Hi RGo, it'll be awhile until the rest of the stores are confirmed by the developers. Maybe at the earliest, October 2013 something might come out about other stores. Talking to Benderson Development, they know of the desire for an Apple Store by people here. The other major anchor is rumored to be a Bass Pro Shop.
RGo January 20, 2013 at 04:16 AM
Thanks Charles....that's really good to know! I've spoken to a few people myself who are hoping the Apple does enter the market. By the way, I like Bass Pro Shop, that too would be a great addition. I'll definitely keep my eyes and ears opens waiting to see who the other retailers will be.
turtle March 16, 2013 at 06:33 AM
The high end stores are okay such as Saks Fifth Avenue. They attract their demographic wealthy women in Sarasota. Hopefully this mall is inclusive and attracts all demographics such as regular men that are interested in the outdoors. Reading the above statements I hear a Bass Pro Shops may be there and that would be huge. I don't like driving 45 minutes to Fort Myers for one store and I usually do that because Sarasota doesn't have an outdoor store like Bass Pro Shops. Hopefully it has at least one large Super store in it that sells firearms. Tampa has several and Fort Myers has several but Sarasota has always been lacking in this sector. A Shooters World like the one in Tampa would be nice. I'm also hoping they have 20 or 30 different restaurant genres. Not just a food court but 20 or 30 restaurants. Hopefully they also have state of the art movie theatres with IMAX for the whole movie experience. Keep in mind this mall will need to be different than all the other malls in Sarasota because we already have the Westfield Malls and they are all pretty boring and many shoppers don't even stop by because people can get their stuff cheaper online or in the cheaper strip malls. This mall will need a "Wow" factor for people to be really interested. I'd also like to see some type of antique cars for sale in one of the places. This always attracts many people and brings in good revenue. This is just a few of my thoughts.

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