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East County Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017 4 years ago

Benderson Development lights up 300 acres of UTC

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Developer has plans to expand and further develop its holiday light display along Cattlemen, University Parkway.
by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

Benderson Development Co.’s Cliff McHenry sat on a park bench, at the northernmost roundabout on Cattlemen Road, admiring the holiday lights that were wrapped around palm trees and an evergreen tree.

McHenry envisioned the setting more than a year ago, but it finally has come to fruition. Near the bench where McHenry sat was an events lawn set up for small concerts and movie screenings along with an outdoor ice skating rink. Skate rental and 90 minutes of ice time costs $10, as long as it is below 70 degrees outside.

When McHenry thought about how to enhance the University Town Center shopping area’s holiday light display, he thought back to Davidson, N.C., north of  Charlotte, where he lived before moving in 2005 to Florida.

“They have the neatest downtown area, it’s almost like you’re stepping back into time,” McHenry said. “Every year, they do a Christmas on the Green over one weekend. I looked at the area (here) and said, ‘Do we have a piece of land where we could do this?’”

Benderson did. It’s near northernmost roundabout on Cattlemen Road, adjacent to the mall. It’s a primary entrance to The Mall at University Town Center, and it’s property that has yet to be developed.

McHenry first pitched his idea as the 2016 Christmas season approached, but it didn’t gain traction until this year. Benderson Development has been making preparations for that holiday village area, specifically, since August — preparing the site, adding pavered walkways and installing sod, among other improvements. The Holidays on the Green program runs until Jan. 15.

“Our goal each year is to build on previous successes,” said McHenry, Benderson Development’s director of property management. “We want to try to meet the people’s expectations or exceed them.”

Even without the holiday village project, handling all the lights and visual displays spread along Cattlemen Road and University Parkway at Benderson Development University Town Center shopping centers is a challenge.

The property includes about 300 acres of commercial development. Benderson Development has three warehouse spaces, totaling 15,000 square feet, dedicated to storing its holiday decor.

“One of the challenges is getting the decorations in place without doing it too soon,” McHenry said. “It’s a tough balance.”

Benderson Development has decorated palm trees and put up other holiday decor all along its property on Cattlemen Road.

Preparations for the holidays begin in late summer with an evaluation of the previous year’s display and any changes on the property, such as the addition of palm trees or commercial areas that may need electrical added to accommodate new sets of lights.

Workers begin putting lights out in late September, starting by wrapping the base of palm trees. Lights in palm fronds and in bushes, however, are saved for as late as possible because maintenance becomes problematic. For example, landscape crews cannot trim bushes that are covered in lights, and palm fronds can fall, displacing lights, McHenry said.

Christmas Designers of Pompano Beach uses nine to 12 bucket trucks each year for its project at UTC, which this year proved a challenge because of hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Although the company had rented the trucks in advance, utility companies get priority after natural disasters. It had to bring in trucks from Nevada and Pennsylvania to complete its job, McHenry said.

After lights are up, the work doesn’t end. A crew of two to six people comes out nightly to inspect strings of lights.

“It’s an unbelievable amount of work. It’s seven days a week and 16-hour days,” McHenry said, adding everyone on staff works to make it happen. “It’s just part of what it takes.”

McHenry declined to say how much Benderson spends on lights and holiday decor each year, but smiled.

“I’ll leave that up to your imagination,” he said.

The Mall at University Town Center Marketing Director Lauren Clark and General Manager Jeramy Burkinshaw hope the additions, such as snow, to the mall bring an element of delight to holiday shoppers.

Mall at UTC adds to holiday feel

As The Mall at University Town Center braced for Santa’s arrival there Nov. 10, workers spent about two weeks working overnight to set the stage for the holiday season.

Santa’s Flight Academy, an interactive experience in the mall’s central Grand Court, allows children to wonder through a winter wonderland as they become part of Santa’s flight crew, meeting elves, helping guide the sleigh and dancing in the snow before meeting with Santa himself. Each child who registers gets his own “crew member” badge.

To prepare, crews of about 25 people spent three nights setting up Santa’s sleigh alone and then another week configuring its information technology requirements so registrations are all individualized to the users.

Holiday decor around the rest of the mall — garland hanging from walkways and other visuals — take about one night to put out.

This year, the mall added an extra touch of holiday spirit — snow — at the mall’s main entrance.

“I’m from Utah and there’s no snow here,” Mall at UTC General Manager Jeramy Burkinshaw said, smiling. “I wanted snow.”

Such a dream proved a logistical challenge and the mall’s maintenance staff spent three months working on the idea. They had to create a snowfall that would dissipate before landing on the floor, so as not to cause slipping, but also fall low enough that it could interact with people. Burkinshaw wanted the snow to “swirl” when the mall doors opened to make it feel more realistic, as well.

“It’s all about the surprise and delight,” Burkinshaw said.

Staff developed a basic snow recipe and the best way to store it, ordered necessary brackets and parts and then went to work. They spent two weeks testing the snowfall each night to ensure it was the right recipe for success.

Burkinshaw and other staff members carry a key fob which allows them to turn on and off the snow feature with ease if they start to notice more crowds entering the mall. Generally, the snow falls during the busiest mall hours, starting around 5 p.m. each night.

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