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There's nothing rinky-dink about this holiday display at UTC

Benderson goes all out creating a Christmas mall masterpiece in Sarasota.

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  • | 1:06 p.m. November 2, 2018
The ice rink at Holidays on the Green drew 20,000 people last year. Courtesy photo.
The ice rink at Holidays on the Green drew 20,000 people last year. Courtesy photo.
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Even while on summer vacation, Benderson Development Co.’s Cliff McHenry had Christmas on his mind.

As he stayed in a ski village in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, and climbed to the top of Mount Zugspitze with his family, he saw

the opportunity to make Christmas in Sarasota even more special.

When he got home, he called Benderson’s landscape contractor and asked them to find dead trees they could use at this year’s Holidays on the Green, a holiday green space featuring ice skating, musical and other shows, movie nights and other holiday fun off Cattlemen Road, just north of the future Natuzzi Italia site.

The Green opens Nov. 9 in coordination with Santa’s arrival at The Mall at University Town Center and will run through Jan. 6.

The trees will help set the scene for a Bavarian alpine village.

“We’ll bring them in planters, and hopefully they’ll look good with lights on them,” McHenry said grinning.

Benderson’s contractors are constructing and painting Bavarian-style “homes” vendors will use during events on the Green. From them, vendors will sell popcorn, food and drinks when the Green hosts special events, like its Friday and Saturday night movies or special performances.

Ice skating will return, and this year a 40,000-pound snow-blaster will provide snow for a tubing down an 8-foot-tall hill.

“The holidays are a time of giving,” McHenry said. “I think it will be a nice addition. This will allow the event to grow even more this year.”

Last year’s Holidays on the Green drew an estimated 50,000 people, including 20,000 ice skaters.

Visitors can purchase ice skating and snow tubing experiences. But movie nights, nightly music performances and other events are free, said Lauren Clark, marketing and sponsorship director for The Mall at UTC. In partnership with IHeartRadio, there even will be a giveaway Dec. 15 of a $100,000 Corvette.

“It’s creating a holiday experience that creates memories for different members of the community,” Clark said of the festivities.

McHenry said planning for the Green started in June with the goal of making it truly feel “green” although the space is being carved out of a parking lot. The site is one Benderson Development Co. eventually may develop — infrastructure for a future building is underground — but Benderson has placed sod, shrubberies and other details to create the holiday atmosphere it desires.

Contractors have quietly been putting up lights along the larger University Town Center corridor since August, but installation of the larger holiday displays started Nov. 1 — just in time for the Nov. 9 grand opening. This year’s displays include the addition of a 55-foot-tall Christmas tree, compared with the 40-foot-tall tree featured at the Green.

Benderson Development and The Mall launched the Green last Christmas season. It was fashioned after a similar green area in James Island, S.C., McHenry said.


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