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More choices coming to Mall at UTC in Sarasota

Movie theater, bowling center among concepts considered for UTC East District.

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  • | 8:10 a.m. November 20, 2019
Mark Chait, director of leasing for Benderson Development Co. says there are new and evolving entertainment concepts that could be a good fit for the University Town Center East District project.
Mark Chait, director of leasing for Benderson Development Co. says there are new and evolving entertainment concepts that could be a good fit for the University Town Center East District project.
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Benderson Development’s vision to create a lifestyle center in the University Town Center area is taking shape with plans for a high-end movie theater and possibly a bowling center in front of The Mall at University Town Center.

The entertainment offerings are planned outside the mall but within the perimeter ring road. At least two restaurants also are planned there, Benderson Development’s Senior Marketing Manager Julie Fanning and Director of Development Todd Mathes said.

The entertainment district will likely be the first piece in Benderson’s future East District at UTC, located

between The Mall at UTC and Interstate 75 south of University Parkway and north of Benderson Park. Construction could start as early as 2020.

Mark Chait, Benderson’s executive director for leasing, called the UTC area the “epicenter” for shopping, dining and entertainment in the Sarasota-Manatee region.

“What we need to add is the entertainment component,” he said. 

He said there are a variety of entertainment concepts gaining popularity nationwide, but he would not speculate on concepts being considered for the site.

The new American Dream mall in East Rutherford, N.J., for example, features a Nickelodeon-themed park with 25 rides and attractions and an NHL-sized ice rink.

Other concepts gaining traction nationally include aquariums, luxury movie theaters, large-scale indoor playgrounds, escape rooms, miniature golf and bowling alleys.

The entertainment piece, however, is just one part of the mixed-use plan for the East District.

On the remainder of the site, Benderson expects to build Class-A office space, hotels, restaurants and multifamily housing in a format meant to foster interconnectivity of uses.

Although the site plan could change, Benderson currently expects to build Class-A office space at the northern end of the property, near the southwest intersection of University Parkway and I-75. 

“It will be a gateway entrance,” Mathes said. “The world has changed since we started studying office [space] here. We like how the buildings lay out [in this plan].”

Immediately south would likely be one hotel and a fitness center, which would provide recreational opportunities for office tenants and future residents.

The property’s southernmost portion, which abuts the northern end of Nathan Benderson Park, will be reserved for residential development. Five multiple-story buildings could include retail or other shops on the bottom levels.

Benderson earned approvals from Sarasota County for the East District property in 2015.

Mathes said motorists will access the future East District from the traffic signal at University Town Center Drive at Cattlemen Road or from any of the three roundabouts leading to the mall. Drivers will take the mall’s perimeter road to the site.

Mathes said Benderson monitors traffic around the mall and is working to ensure it flows as smoothly as possible.

He said that the opening of the Lakewood Ranch Boulevard extension to Fruitville Road in 2020 should help shift traffic patterns and bring more motorists from the south.

In 2019, Sarasota County made the permitting of and funding for an overpass across Interstate 75 from Lakewood Ranch Boulevard to Cattlemen Road a federal legislative priority. Mathes said those future improvements would also help shift traffic away from the intersection of University Parkway and Interstate 75.

In the short term, Benderson has proposed to Manatee County and will propose to Sarasota County a change in signal timing for the traffic signal at the intersection of University Parkway and I-75 that it believes will improve flows. Mathes said there’s also opportunity to improve signal timing at Cattlemen Road and University Town Center Drive.


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