It’s all here but there’s nothing here at the same time, a dynamic that leaves Octavio Ortiz meeting with corporate and municipal leaders on the same day that he wears a hard hat while standing among steel beams and cranes.
Ortiz, 47, the new general manager of the 880,000-square-foot Mall at University Town Center, plays both the role of brand builder and construction conductor.
In a region with efficient infrastructure, a rebounding economy, new development and high-profile draws, Ortiz must sell the cast members the last piece — the mall.
But, before he gets the keys to the mall, approximately 20 contractors must build it.
“The surrounding area is not usually developed like this,” Ortiz said. “It’s a unique situation in which the mall is the last piece of the puzzle that’s being dropped in. The most interesting part is preparing for when the development guys leave and hand us the key. ‘Here you go. Here’s your brand-new shopping center.’”
Ortiz, an employee of Michigan-based Taubman Centers, which is developing the mall with , is tasked with leading the team opening what is expected to be a regional destination.
Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and Dillard’s will anchor the $315 million shopping center at University Parkway and Interstate 75, set to open October 2014.
Seasons 52, Fresh Grill and Wine Bar, developed by Orlando-based Darden Restaurants Inc., recently became the mall’s first confirmed restaurant.
Ortiz has overseen a mega mall from the ground-up before.
He most recently managed The Shops at Willow Bend, in Plano, Texas, also a Taubman property.
He has managed other brand-new mall projects, including the expansion of Sawgrass Mills in Fort Lauderdale — one of the largest malls in the country — to open The Colonnade Outlets in 2006.
Ortiz left the comforts of Texas, his home state, to return to Florida because he likes the challenge of completing the puzzle.
“We looked at the market and there’s really not a lot of competition,” Ortiz said. “When you look at the market, Sarasota is truly an underserved market when it comes to better retail options. We believe we can have a major impact here and become a major destination.”
To make that happen, Ortiz, who bought a home in Lakewood Ranch with his wife and 14-year-old son, first must recruit tenants and build relationships in the community.
The first part hasn’t really required recruiting. Ortiz says 50% of the 100-plus tenants will be unique to the area.
“You’ve heard it and we’ve heard it: There’s been a huge interest in the tenant mix, and we want to bring those tenants to this market so people can enjoy them,” Ortiz said.
Taubman will announce a wave of tenants this fall.
Ortiz uses his management and marketing skills, developed during stops at malls in Georgia, North Carolina and Texas, before joining Taubman Centers six years ago, to get close with local tourism groups, hospitality players and other business leaders and municipalities.
He has already met with Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube and county permitting staff.
He says he will personally take part in a lunch series at the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce.
“We’re looking at a lot of synergy with everything that’s going on around here,” Ortiz said. “We’re really looking at being one with the community.”
Before he gets the keys, Ortiz must also hire the staff that will man the inside of the mall, when the developers leave, such as a facilities and marketing director.
He will bring on bread-and-butter crews, such as janitorial and landscaping staff.
He expects 2,000 jobs to be generated from the mall once it opens.
Roughly 1,000 jobs have already been created to build it.
Inside his trailer office, charts and graphs telling Ortiz construction is on time fill the walls.
Saks Fifth Avenue and Macy’s are putting their steel up, while Dillard’s will receive its pad site in October.
Soon, this chaotic site will play host to a 21st-century mall with see-through ceilings, car charging stations and valet service.
Ortiz will eventually get the keys, remove the hard hat and go to a new office inside the mall, though he probably wishes he could stay outside.
“I love the beach; you can see I’m already tan,” Ortiz joked. “I joke with my wife that the last time we lived in Florida we got kind of jaded with the beach and said we’d only go in-season because it’s too hot. Now, we say we’re going to go all the time because we didn’t maximize this.”
But, first, he has a mall to manage — in a sense.
“The job changes tremendously after the mall opens,” Ortiz said. “Everything leading up to that, you are hired to manage a mall, but there’s really no mall to manage at this point. But there’s plenty to do.”
Contact Josh Siegel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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