APRIL FOOLS — As shoppers become more and more dependant upon their mobile devices for finding coupons, getting directions and other tasks, developers of the proposed mega-mall site off University Parkway are signaling for better cell-phone reception for their existing and future customers.
Officials say the sheer scope of the project and the volume of customers it will draw to the area, particularly around the Christmas shopping season, will make the tower necessary, despite the existence of a cell tower in The Meadows community nearby.
The new 160-foot tower will be placed in one of the medians closest to Nathan Benderson Park, which hosted the Sarasota Invitational Rowing Regatta March 23 to March 24 and will host the Florida Intercollegiate Rowing Association competition April 5 and April 6. A roundabout is also being discussed for that median to help with the impending influx of traffic.
To help promote the park and its up-and-coming designation as a world-class rowing venue, the cell tower will be disguised as two large oars.
“The oars will serve as an easy-to-spot landmark for regatta-goers trying to find the entrance to the park, and it also will hide the tower so it fits in with the aesthetics of the shopping venue we are working so hard to create,” Benderson Development project coordinator Marc Marcell said.
A representative from cell tower developer It’s a Go! Construction said the tower’s unique design will require more elaborate engineering study, so construction likely will not start until August.
Construction would take longer than usual, as well — about seven months — because the company will perform construction during two-hour shifts with 30-minute breaks throughout the day to prevent problems for patrons of University Town Center, which already is home to the Super Target, Bed Bath and Beyond, and other popular stores.
“This actually works out best, because we can avoid significant impacts to the existing portion of the project during the holiday shopping time, but we will have the tower operational about six months before the mall’s grand opening,” Marcell said. “There’s already such a buzz about the project. Our tenants along the University Parkway corridor say they are already seeing an increase in traffic, including patrons from throughout the Southwest Florida region, not just Sarasota or Bradenton.”
It’s a Go! officials said they have been looking at other potential sites in the East County area to improve cell-phone reception east of Interstate 75 between University Parkway and State Road 70, but have not yet located any suitable ones.
Although the tower is not in that specific area, the company’s engineers believe it will improve reception for residents as far north as State Road 70 and as far east as Lorraine Road.
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].