Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Retailers' Eyes Are on UTC, the Shoppers' Mecca That Almost Wasn't

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Retailers' Eyes Are on UTC, the Shoppers' Mecca That Almost Wasn't

Article excerpt

The future of the Mall at University Town Center project, a multimillion-dollar shopping mall that promised to bring high-end brands to Southwest Florida for the first time, was almost dead in the water at this time six years ago.

Plans to build the $315 million center stalled amid the worst recession in several lifetimes. Key tenants Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus abandoned plans to open stores here. Brick-and-mortar sales continued to plummet as national chains struggled to combat the ever- growing online shopping threat.

But that was then.

As the regional economy was finding its footing, Taubman Centers Inc. and Manatee County's Benderson Development Co. resurrected plans to build the ambitious shopping center, breaking ground two years ago on a 276-acre parcel that would be home to the most upscale shopping mall between Tampa and Naples.

Today, shoppers will walk through the doors to the 880,000- square-foot mall for the first time.

Anchored by Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy's and Dillard's, and hosting more than 100 other national and international brands, UTC is the area's first new mall in nearly four decades and the only enclosed shopping hub that will be opening anywhere in the country this year.

The debut signals renewed confidence in the local economy. And the Mall at University Town Center is poised to transform shopping in Southwest Florida.

"Shopping centers and the players who make up our industry are in the midst of one of the most exciting periods of evolution since the rise of the suburban mall in the 1950s," says Michael Kercheval, CEO of the International Council of Shopping Centers.

"What is known for certain is that customers want a physical space that allows them to interact with the merchandise and service professionals and gives them a 'third place' away from home or the office to have a social experience, dine or be entertained. …

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