Throughout the holiday week, YourObserver.com will be counting down the top 12 stories of 2011 (one from each month) from our Longboat, East County and Sarasota Observers and the Pelican Press. Check back each day for a reprinting — along with any relevant updates — of the biggest news items of the year.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED FEB. 10, 2011
The shopping centers near Palmer Ranch today have an austere appearance.
Albertsons supermarket on Central Sarasota Parkway has been closed for four years. Dillard’s left Westfield Sarasota Square Mall in 2009. And the Pelican Plaza shopping center has had trouble keeping its retailers.
But a retail rejuvenation is about to take place.
Kohl’s announced last month that it would move into the old Albertsons. Lowe’s will begin construction next door by late spring. Costco will replace Dillard’s at the mall. Plans call for Pelican Plaza to be torn down and rebuilt to attract better stores. And a Mercedes-Benz car dealership is almost completed on Clark Road.
“Thank God,” said Margaret Brading, president of the Palmer Ranch Communities Coalition. “We need something to keep people shopping here.”
Palmer Ranch is expecting a flurry of activity from Clark Road to Central Sarasota Parkway as those large retailers build and move into their new homes.
The timing seems to center on the economy.
“These are all the same names (of stores) that we heard back in 2006,” said Justin Powell, vice president of Palmer Ranch Holdings. “The market downturn caused them to pull back. We’re now seeing the economy coming back.”
Powell said Costco wanted to move into Palmer Ranch a couple of different times, but the timing wasn’t right. Now, it plans to move into the old Dillard’s space.
As the country’s fifth-largest retailer, Costco is expected to draw people from all around Sarasota and Osprey. Currently, the closest store is 41 miles away, in Brandon.
“Costco is more of a regional store,” said Powell. “It will serve all of Sarasota.”
It will help shore up the Westfield Sarasota Square Mall, which has lost traditional retailers, such as the Disney Store, which closed several locations, and The Gap and has filled the vacant storefronts with lesser-known clothing stores, such as Famous Labels and Rhythm Fashion, and non-traditional businesses such as a tattoo parlor and miniature golf course.
“The mall was a dying thing,” said Brading.
Another sign the mall may be turning around is the addition of an Express store to replace The Gap, which is expected to open in the summer. Costco would not provide a timetable of when the store would open.
During the past two years, Kohl’s has grown from the nation’s 24th largest retailer to the 20th largest. It will anchor the east end of the Oak Plaza shopping center at Central Sarasota Parkway and U.S. 41. It purchased the 59,582-square-foot space previously occupied by Albertsons. Babies ’R’ Us anchors the west end of that shopping center.
Kohl’s also has a store on University Parkway, an area that has drawn many of Palmer Ranch’s shoppers.
“People are now going to University,” said Brading.
A Central Sarasota Parkway location could help keep residents shopping in their own community.
Powell believes the same can be said of Lowe’s, which will occupy the vacant wooded area on Central Sarasota Parkway, between Kohl’s and the Bella Villino condo complex.
“We’ve heard from a lot of people who dread getting in their car and going to Home Depot on Cattlemen Road,” he said.
Powell believes having the home-improvement store in Palmer Ranch will help alleviate congestion on area roads.
“Look at the traffic you’re putting on the road going to Home Depot or the Lowe’s (on State Road 70),” he said. “That’s another good thing for Sarasota — reducing traffic time.”
Putting more cars on the road is the goal of Mercedes-Benz of Sarasota. It’s moving its store from U.S. 41, in Gulf Gate, to 4754 Clark Road, which is next to Sawyer Loop Road.
Construction is nearly complete, and it plans to open its doors in April or May.
“(Clark Road) already has luxury brands BMW, Lexus and Land Rover, so it made complete sense,” said Mark Cannon, senior vice president for Autonation. “We think it’s a perfect move for us.”
The Pelican Plaza shopping center will be getting a facelift in order to attract a large anchor store similar to the others moving into Palmer Ranch.
The 30-year-old shopping center used to be home to a Linens ’N’ Things. The owner, Michigan-based Ramco-Gershenson, wants to redevelop the plaza to attract a stable anchor store.
Ed Eickhoff, vice president of development and redevelopment, said he’s currently in talks with several retailers and will decide on one within the next two or three weeks.
The new store could open by September.
Brading asked the Palmer Ranch Communities Coalition membership what they would like to see in Pelican Plaza. She said more than 90% of the responses asked for a Trader Joe’s specialty grocery store. She has written to the company to try to gauge its interest but has not heard back.
The right fit
Stacy Lentz, spokeswoman for Lowe’s, said the store looks at hundreds of factors before deciding on a new store location.
She said Palmer Ranch had everything it sought.
“We look at homeownership, population, growth in the community, access in and out of our parking lot and access to major roadways,” she said.
According to Powell, the infrastructure and the demographics are key to the revitalization.
“Palmer Ranch has good connectivity to main roads, and it’s close to interstate travel,” Powell said.
As for the demographics, Palmer Ranch has about 9,000 dwelling units and is located near the Gulf Gate and Osprey communities.
“Palmer Ranch used to be more snowbirds, but now it’s more full-time residents,” Powell said. “There’s a good mix of retirees, families with children and empty-nesters.”
Brading is not concerned why they’re coming. She’s just glad they are.
“Empty stores are not good for our property values,” she said. “We need people to come here and stay here. Costco will certainly do that. Kohl’s will certainly do that.”