Improvement in the local economy is paving the way for East County-based Benderson Development to move forward not only with filling its existing commercial nodes along University Parkway but also for expanding development within University Town Center, its future mega-mall project at the southwest intersection of University Parkway and Interstate 75.
Benderson’s Executive Director of Leasing Mark Chait said several tenants have opened in Benderson’s plazas along the University Parkway corridor since January, including Square One Burgers and Guitar Center, and another 10 retailers, including Old Navy, Dress Barn and Buffalo Wild Wings, will open for business in the coming months.
“It’s great,” Chait said of feedback from patrons of the plaza. “That’s the exciting part of the job. People are very excited.”
When Guitar Center opened in The Shoppes at University Center in February, about 1,200 people turned out for the store’s grand opening, which included an AC/DC cover band performance in the store’s parking lot.
Chait noted deals for several more spaces, including one for the former Circuit City building, are close to being finalized, as well.
“The market this year has noticeably picked up,” Chait said. “Many tenants are looking to expand. We attended the International Council of Shopping Centers (conference) and received positive feedback. They’re seeing growth.”
Many retailers, Chait said, are negotiating deals to have new stores open this year and next.
Chait said Benderson is signing a “fair amount” of restaurants in its plazas, but the numbers aren’t disproportional for the size of commercial centers Benderson is operating.
“Restaurants are definitely a category we’re seeing an upswing in, especially in this University corridor,” Chait said. “The restaurants in this area and on our properties do (extraordinarily) well.”
Benderson is not yet ready to move forward on its full-scale University Town Center project, which will bring a total of 1.6 million square feet of retail and more to the area once finished, but project manager Paul Blackketter said the company is moving forward with the construction of more retail buildings there along Cattlemen Road and even with plans to start on the hotel component of project’s second phase.
“We’re definitely going ahead with the hotels and commercial — definitely (they’ll be built) within a few years,” Blackketter said. “We’re doing some serious planning here very quickly.”
Sarasota County commissioners on June 29 granted Benderson a change in its development plan for the plaza, removing a community housing requirement and adding commercial space in its place.
Blackketter said University Town Center still will include a housing component as previously approved, but the developer no longer will have to provide housing designated as “affordable,” because homes are selling for less than the designation to which Benderson was required to comply — about $250,000 per home.
Additionally, Benderson is looking to expand The Shoppes at University Center, the plaza that houses Lee Roy Selmon’s, with the construction of outparcels between the old Circuit City building and the hotel on site.
A buffer variance recently approved by the Manatee County Commission will help make the plaza more visible from the road while also meeting county guidelines. Benderson needed the variance to enlarge the Circuit City building for a prospective tenant.
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].
University Town Center
Eyeglass World — Opened March 21
Gamestop — Signed
Hair Cuttery — Signed
Complete Nutrition — Signed
Dress Barn — Signed
Old Navy — Signed
Jimmy John’s — Signed
The Shoppes at University Center
Guitar Center — Opened
Create Your Own — Opened May 20
Ross Dress for Less — Opened
Tourist Center Drive
Pita’s Republic — Signed
University Park Center
Square One Burgers — Opened Feb. 1
Buffalo Wild Wings — Signed
Allstate Insurance — Signed
Florida Clinical Research — Opened June 1