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Sarasota Square Mall redevelopment includes up to 1,200 apartments

The county Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of five measures to pave the way for replacing Sarasota Square Mall.

A vision plan for the Sarasota Square Mall property presented at the March 7, 2024, Sarasota County Planning Commission meeting.
A vision plan for the Sarasota Square Mall property presented at the March 7, 2024, Sarasota County Planning Commission meeting.
Courtesy image
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In making a motion to approve the first of five petitions related to Torburn Partners' plans to redevelop the mostly vacant Sarasota Square Mall, Sarasota County Planning Commission Chair Pro Tem Emmalee Legler said she was “excited” about referring the project to the County Commission for approval.

And so it went for all five petitions filed by the Illinois-based developer, which were before the advisory body on March 7. That was the first step of a lengthy process prior to seeking the myriad state and local permitting, and before the developer can actually begin submitting development plans to the county.

“I am very, very excited to see this development in this area,” Legler said. “At this point there is nothing happening there, so I understand that loud noise and people we don't know moving into apartment complexes seem a little scary. Assuming that these people are going to be causing crime I think is an uninvited assumption. I'm going to be in favor of all five motions.”

The Planning Commission was unanimous in its approval too, likely to the chagrin of more than 15 speakers and others in attendance, who objected to the development on the basis of traffic, the up to 1,200 rental apartments, noise concerns, crime and general disruption of their quality of life. 

Over the past two-plus years, Torburn Partners has spent $35.3 million on Sarasota Square properties, including the mall structure itself for $19 million in September 2021. The previous owner, Unibail-Rodamco Westfield, spent $77 million for the mall in 2003, then lost it in bankruptcy during the pandemic.

The Sarasota Square Mall property outlined in yellow.
Courtesy image

Including outparcels, the entire mall property occupies approximately 93.5 acres. The redevelopment will not include the Costco store and fuel outparcel, the JCPenney building, AMC Theatres and a bank outparcel. The mall building will be demolished and replaced by the open-air, multiuse concept that Torburn Partners principal Robert Horne said will include high-end and fast-casual restaurants, specialty retail and potentially medical offices. A central town green surrounded by residential and commercial buildings will offer open space and room for special events.

Among the most contentious of the petitions was for a special exception for live entertainment and special events after 10 p.m. Horne explained that without that exception, restaurants would not be allowed to offer features such as an acoustic guitarist in the evenings.

“We are talking to a number of really high-end, established restaurants, and a lot of the restaurants have outdoor dining and do have entertainment uses at times,” Horne said. “Most of what we're talking about is going to be in our special event area for food trucks, for farmers markets, things that are mostly going to be during the daytime, but this is going to allow us to bring in the optimal tenant mix, really the best restaurant users, into the center of this project.”

Five-part approval

The applicant proposes mixed-use redevelopment of the mall that will reduce the commercial uses from just more than 1 million square feet to 692,457, plus a minimum of 500 apartments — as required by staff — to a maximum of 1,200 units in a multiuse town center development

The five actions are:

  • A comprehensive plan amendment to rezone 2.8 acres from medium density residential to regional commercial center.
  • A Critical Area Plan amendment to change the boundary to include the project site and add additional development order conditions to the plan.
  • An amendment to add the aforementioned 2.8-acre parcel to the existing Development of Regional Impact, to update the existing development order conditions, and to reconfigure the existing 1.2 million square feet of commercial uses.
  • To rezone the site from Commercial Shopping Center and Residential Mobile Home to Commercial General. 
  • Special exception petition to request bar with outdoor entertainment, indoor entertainment, outdoor recreation and entertainment, special events in conjunction with an approved outdoor recreation use, and a garden center with outside merchandise.
The interior of Sarasota Square Mall toward AMC Theaters, one of its three operating businesses.
Photo by Andrew Warfield

The Planning Commission’s unanimous recommendation to approve all five petitions by Torburn doesn’t advance a development plan to the County Commission. Rather it only sets the table for further environmental, wildlife transportation and other permitting that are required prior to any specific plans to be made should approval be granted.

Representatives of Torburn attempted to allay concerns by explaining that it plans a development of lower intensity than current entitlements, and that traffic generated by 300,000 fewer square feet of commercial — even if the maximum of 1,200 apartments is built, will generate fewer trips than if the site were redeveloped at 100% of its current entitlements.

Nearby residents objected to no presentation of a site plan, the absence of architectural drawings and no commitment to the number of apartments, and even suggested that Torburn is skirting the permitting processes of a number of state and local agencies, including the Florida Wildlife Commission. Torburn representatives responded that permitting and site plans at this stage are premature.

“We are early in the process, and it is absolutely a fact that we do not have a permit from any wildlife agency for this project because we're months away from applying for one, if we need one,” said Ray Loraine, a senior scientist for engineering firm Stantec. “The state has a very detailed set of permitting and protection measures. The process will include all of those guidelines and we will coordinate with the state as required by the environmental chapter of our county code.”

Other objections were building height — some residential buildings could be as tall as eight stories — along with stormwater management, noise abatement and traffic.

Under questioning by commissioners, Torburn representatives said all permitting will follow if rezoning is approved, traffic — although it will be more than the current mostly dead retail center generates — will be less than if it is developed as currently entitled, and that sound emanating from restaurants and the town green will be contained by surrounding apartment and commercial buildings, including Costco, JCPenney and the AMC theater.

Some speakers during public comment suggested that bringing a high concentration of renters into the development on the edge of single-family neighborhoods and Palmer Ranch will invite crime, noise and other nuisances.

Legler questioned attorney Charlie Bailey, who represents Torburn, about the characteristics of residents who would be attracted to an urban town center development.

The JC Penney store at Sarasota Square will remain along with Costco, AMC theater and a bank outparcel when the mall is redevelopment into a mixed-use town center concept.
Photo by Andrew Warfield

“They're going to be market-rate apartments,” Bailey said. “They are transplants, folks who may be moving here looking for a home and want to rent an apartment. They could be young professionals. We think some of them will be small enough to be able to serve some of those folks who are working within the retail that's going to come online. It’s not going to be like the apartment complex I lived in my sophomore year in college. I wouldn't wish that on anybody.”

In 1974, Sarasota Square was designated as the first Development of Regional Impact in Sarasota County and was among the first in Florida. Development plans for changes within a DRI must be submitted to a regional planning council for approval, which Torburn Partners has done.

The Planning Commission meeting may be viewed at



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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