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Benderson shares plans for reclassifying Crossings at Siesta Key property

Benderson Development, which built The Mall at University Town Center, has bought the Crossings at Siesta Key.
Benderson Development, which built The Mall at University Town Center, has bought the Crossings at Siesta Key.
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In its heyday of the late 1980s and 1990s, Sarasota’s Southgate Mall property was a bustling center of commerce, having been fully enclosed in 1988. 

Known then as Southgate Plaza, it was a time when U.S. 41 was still the primary commercial corridor through the region and before most of its tenants, like many other retailers along Tamiami Trail, were drawn to Benderson Development’s University Town Center. 

Last week, Benderson took the first steps toward redevelopment of the largely vacant property, now known as Crossings at Siesta Key.

After taking seven years to assemble the nearly 35-acre mall property at U.S. 41 between Bee Ridge Road and Siesta Drive, Benderson is embarking on its first steps to breathe life back into the site, seeking a comprehensive plan amendment and subsequent zoning text amendments to change the zoning to the city’s new Urban Mixed-Use future land use classification.

The site is currently zoned Commercial Shopping Center with a future land use designation or Metropolitan/Regional #9.

Benderson and its development consultant, Kimley-Horn, held a community workshop at the mall’s Rise Above Performing Arts theater on July 25 to discuss its ideas for the site based on the new urbanism concept of mixing of residential and commercial uses to create a self-contained, walkable community.

Benderson Development plans to redevelop the Crossings at Siesta Key property, outlined in yellow, into a mixed-use community.
Courtesy map

Todd Mathes, director of development for Benderson, told the crowd the company has no development plans at this time, but should the city support the reclassification of the property, it could take two decades or more to complete the redevelopment. That would include a residential base density of 25 units per acre — 35 units should it include an affordable housing component.

Some attendees expressed skepticism about the absence of a plan, but Mathes explained several tenants have long-term leases with renewal options that could extend to 20 years. What it won’t be, he said, is a single use development.

“We do not, standing here today, have a plan for this property in part because we know that a lot of these existing tenants who are operating here are going to be here for quite awhile,” Mathes said. “It's going to be redeveloped in pieces, one little piece at a time, as we're able to work through it. What I can tell you is that we're committed to quality projects. We're committed to the community and we're very committed to the redevelopment and reenvisioning of the property. 

“Everything about our experience with properties like this and everything that planners and architects tell us is that in the future, it's going to be a mix of uses.”

The property is currently zoned for 1.2 million square feet of commercial space. While largely vacant, Mathes cited some tenants — specifically naming Connors Steak & Seafood restaurant — as doing very well. The restaurant outparcels on the property stand alone and could be incorporated into the overall master plan. 

Benderson completed its acquisition of the property last year, purchasing the 439,958-square-foot enclosed mall space for $25.1 million.

Intended to reduce traffic

New Urbanism developments are typically higher density with residential surrounding a commercial component that serves the adjacent residents and surrounding community. They will often include a type of town square and green spaces, all intended to create a walkable, self-contained community with a goal of reducing vehicle trips for some basic needs. 

Similar to the North Trail Overlay District, buildings are placed near the roadways with parking and utility functions contained internally.

Philip DiMaria of Kimley-Horn and Benderson Development's Todd Mathes listen to questions and comments during a community workshop about Crossings at Siesta Key redevelopment.
Photo by Andrew Warfield

The effectiveness of the design principle is subject to debate, largely because significant examples are few and far between. Historically, communities New Urbanism seeks to recreate occurred organically over decades and were not master planned. 

Mathes admitted there are few developments in Florida designed around New Urbanism principles, citing Mercato in Naples and St. Johns Town Center in Jacksonville as two that touch on, but don’t fully embrace, the concept. Both were also built absent significant mass transit serving the sites — a tenet of New Urbanism — Mercato along U.S. 41 and St. John's Town Center at the interchange of I-295 and Butler Boulevard, also an interstate-style highway.

Absent a catalyst, organic New Urbanism redevelopment is a more patient process, coming piece by piece, block by block, over time.

“The thought is that if, over time, we could revisit some of those original European principles as it relates to city building,” said Philip DiMaria, urban planner and project manager with Kimley-Horn & Associates. “We can create better places for people who live, work and play in an area. The idea is that a mix of building types, a mix of uses and diversity in general is healthy for human beings as it relates to their physical environment, and the city has adopted those principles. Those are key tenets within this comprehensive plan … and over time, we're starting to see a city that's transformed into a more new urbanist ideal.”

Most of the concerns expressed were about traffic, pointing out that their neighborhood streets are already used as cut-throughs. DiMaria said no redevelopment can occur absent traffic studies, which determine whether the existing roadways are sufficient or improvements need to be made. He added that a regional mall of 1.2 million square feet, as currently zoned, typically generates more vehicle trips than does a mixed-use development. 

“At some point it was deemed to be sufficient for that amount of retail,” DiMaria said of the road network surrounding the mall. “Now as time goes on and as the city reviews each development application, they're required to study and analyze traffic. As part of any mixed-use development, there's an assumption of a certain percentage of residential units and a certain percentage of retail or office. There's an assumed amount (of traffic) that is captured within the site. Maybe there's a grocery store on-site right there to walk to instead of getting in the car and going to Publix.”

Addressing long-term ownership of the development, Mathes said both he and DiMaria live in the neighborhood and that Benderson’s business model is to develop and hold rather than sell. He hinted at including affordable housing, which by ordinance carries a 30-year requirement of rent caps.

“We are long-term committed to owning this property. We don't tend to create and sell product,” Mathes said. “There's probably lots of money to be made in selling high-end condos. That's not us. We're long-term holders, and hopefully that will create a nice, vibrant place and reduce some barriers to ownership, which could help the community. We very much intend to own everything here for a very long time.”

Although there is no time frame for development, there is a sense of urgency to go before the city for the comprehensive plan amendment application. The initial submittal to the city to begin the that process, Mathes said, could come as early as August. That process will include meetings with the Development Review Committee followed by public hearings before the Planning Board and eventually the City Commission for approval.



Andrew Warfield

Andrew Warfield is the Sarasota Observer city reporter. He is a four-decade veteran of print media. A Florida native, he has spent most of his career in the Carolinas as a writer and editor, nearly a decade as co-founder and editor of a community newspaper in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.

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