UNIVERSITY PARKWAY — East County residents know University Parkway is an exit rife with good eateries, plenty of shopping and other opportunities, but there’s nothing along Interstate 75 to indicate the bustling commercial corridor.
Out-of-town motorists passing by, or even locals less familiar with the area, simply don’t know what shopping and dining opportunities exist or have any reason to get off the highway.
East County commercial development giant Benderson Development hopes to change that.
On Feb. 23, the Manatee County Board of County Commissioners approved a master signage plan that will allow Benderson to construct a variety of themed monument signs along I-75 and University Parkway. The signs, which will be similar in architecture to Benderson’s plazas in that area, will serve both to give more visibility to tenants and help shape the area into a shopping destination that is more unified and easier to navigate.
“The whole idea is to tie both sides of University Parkway together and really create a gateway entrance to Manatee County,” said Derek Watts, director of design for Benderson. “By developing a theme, it makes it appear as it is one development.”
As a developer, Benderson’s holdings are quite unique. The company has more than 6,000 linear feet of road frontage along University Parkway and Interstate 75.
In other areas — such as along U.S. 41, for example — frontage is usually owned by multiple property owners, often resulting in a hodge-podge of signage styles and designs.
But Benderson will use themed signage and landscaping designs to create a more “family” look to its existing plaza’s in that area — University Consumer Square at the northeast corner of Honore Avenue and University; University Park Center at the northwest corner of Honore Avenue and University; The Shoppes at University Center at the northeast corner of University and Cooper Creek Boulevard; Tourist Center Drive at University Center located at the northwest corner of Cooper Creek Boulevard and University Parkway; and the mega mall project, University Town Center, on the south side of University Parkway to the west and east of Cattlemen Road, among other smaller developments.
Proposed signs are all monument in style and use stone masonry, although they are more contemporary in design theme. Each ranges from seven to 25 feet in height and lists one to eight tenants. Signs will be placed on Benderson’s property, not on county or state right-of-way.
“This is the gateway to Manatee County, and we have an opportunity to unify both sides of University Parkway and come up with a theme that applies to both counties,” said Paul Blackketter, a project manager for Benderson.
Blackketter said the company has several potential tenants who were waiting for approval of the signage plan before making a decision to lease in the area.
“These signs provide that critical exposure for (our) tenants,” Watts said.
Benderson also is looking at coming up with a unified name for its commercial developments in the University Parkway corridor, so projects will be easier to identify, Watts said. No name has yet been chosen, but the concept would have one common name, such as “University Center” and then giving each plaza a sub-name, such as “The Shoppes.”
Benderson officials are confident the changes will have a significant economic impact, luring more shoppers to the area. But they also believe the signage plan will make finding stores in existing plazas easier for East County residents and others.
Benderson expects to get bids for the project within the next few weeks and begin construction of the new signs as quickly as possible, Watts said.
“Our tenants are very anxious to see this (happen),” he said. “It’s a great marketing tool.”
Blackketter said Benderson will have to bring the same master signage plan before Sarasota County commissioners, but the timing of that likely will coincide with the build-out of the company’s mega-mall project, University Town Center, in 2014.
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• Gwen Brown: “When you are shopping around, you want to know where to go. You don’t want to spend a tank of gas trying to find it.”
• Carol Whitmore: “I think it’s a nice, classy way to enter University Parkway from the interstate. I’m glad the county finally is looking at stuff like this.
• Donna Hayes: “As the district commissioner, I can see only advantages.”
Manatee County is developing a new set of code requirements for signage that has not yet been adopted by the commission. However, Benderson’s master signage plan meets those proposed requirements.