Developer says pandemic changed design plans to create a healthier environment.
Developer Joe Marino looks at his commercial project at the northeast corner of State Road 64 and Interstate 75 and continues to be optimistic, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Marino, a managing partner with project developer M&M Realty Partners, said although the pandemic is worrisome, it has not altered the timing for developing the future dining-and-entertainment hub, currently home to a 158,000-square-foot Costco and slated for another 392,000 square feet of commercial uses, in addition to a five-story hotel and 350 luxury apartments.
Marino said the pandemic has created an opportunity for M&M and prospective tenants to plan for a new normal for social distancing and health-related guidelines.
Designs that have been affected by the pandemic include wider sidewalks, space for more outdoor dining, enhanced streetscapes and new building layouts to allow for more curbside pickup and drive-thru restaurant options. There will be a downtown-like area connected to the apartments.
“We’re unfortunate because of what’s happening [with the pandemic], but we’re fortunate we didn’t finish this project before it happened,” Marino said. “Now we have the opportunity to rethink how best to build these buildings for the success of the tenants and the public they serve.
“A lot of tenants are looking at the effect of all this and saying, ‘How do we need to change the way we do business?” he said. “If that also changes their prototypes as part of the evolution to deal with this, then we’re fortunate to take advantage of those changes that will allow them to adapt in the future.”
Marino said his team is working with restaurants to find more efficient store layouts and other ways to be successful in a post-pandemic environment.
“People want to figure out how do we best serve the consumer in this market,” he said. “There’s a lot of thought going into all of this. I don’t know what the changes are going to be exactly, but we’re trying to provide the flexibility in our site plan for those tenants to be able to adapt and change. We don’t want to box anybody in.”
Marino said he’s been grateful Manatee County and other governmental agencies found solutions to keep business moving via virtual and other meetings, so there have not been delays in the review and approval process.
Manatee County commissioners on June 23 endorsed plans to allow a new right-in-only access from westbound S.R. 64 into the project, west of Port Harbour Parkway. They also supported allowing the hotel to be up to five stories.
John Taikina, the director of real estate development for M&M Realty Partners, said the Florida Department of Transportation approved the new site access road July 1.
With those approvals now in hand, Marino said he anticipates breaking ground on the next phase — focused on retail — by late this year or in early 2021. Other site-related approvals will be coming before Manatee County commissioners before the year’s end.
“We would want to get ahead and make sure the sites are prepared and ready to accept the building phase, even if leasing wasn’t complete,” Marino said.
Marino said M&M is working with a variety of restaurants — a mix of sit-down, quick-serve and drive-thru concepts — as well as a hotel, entertainment and fitness concepts and retailers.
Marino would not yet disclose any future tenants.
The project, which currently does not have a name, is being developed by M&M Realty Partners, a joint venture between two New Jersey-based real estate development companies — Marino’s JMP Holdings, and that of Jack Morris, Edgewood Properties.
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