Justine Griffin / Herald-Tribune – The Dillard’s department store in Westfield Group’s Southgate Mall has been sold to local real estate development firm Benderson Development Co.
The 7.4-acre parcel is slated to be redeveloped as part of Westfield Group’s $62 million revamp of the retail center, despite now being owned by what is arguably Southgate’s main competitor.
Benderson, based in Manatee County, paid $10 million for the 97,000-square-foot Dillard’s property at the northeast corner of Southgate Mall. The parcel was appraised at $6.3 million by Sarasota County.
“I wouldn’t at all be surprised if Westfield Group sells that mall to Benderson one day,” said Barry Seidel, president of America Property Group, a commercial real estate firm in Sarasota.
“I think it would be in Sarasota’s best interest if Benderson ended up owning the mall. They are prolific investors and are adept at filling centers with quality tenants.”
Westfield announced last year that it will add 46,000 square feet to Southgate and convert it into an outdoor lifestyle shopping mall dubbed “Westfield Siesta Key,” which will incorporate more nightlife and dining options.
The Herald-Tribune first reported that a Bravo! Cucina Italiana and a upscale dine-in movie theater, such as a Cobb Cinebistro, will be a part of the new lineup.
But little work has been done to the property since the announcement.
The Australian mall operator sold a half interest in six of its Florida malls — including Southgate and its Sarasota Square property — last year, which allowed Westfield to gain $700 million in net proceeds. Analysts expected Westfield to use that money to redevelop centers such as Southgate.
So far at Southgate, the company has invested in new bathroom and light fixtures, new family friendly lounges for shoppers with children, new landscaping and several other minor décor additions.
Another analyst had a different take on why Benderson bought the Dillard’s property.
“Benderson is doing what they can to shore up greater success for their new mall at University Parkway,” said Phoenix-based Jeff Green, who is familiar with the Southwest Florida retail scene. “Benderson did not buy that space to redevelop it. Having it sit empty will not only help their brand-new mall but it also gives the perception that Southgate Mall is struggling, which is exactly what Benderson wants.”
Benderson officials insist they are partnering with Westfield at Southgate and dismiss the notion that “Siesta Promenade,” a 250,000-square-foot outdoor retail center they are planning at the corner of Stickney Point Road and U.S. 41, would compete with the aging mall.
“Southgate Mall and Siesta Promenade are two very different properties,” said Todd Mathes, Benderson’s director of development. “One is closer to the urban core and the other will be situated on Stickney Point Road by the south bridge traffic.
“They will attract different tenants because they are vastly different properties.”
Stores at Southgate
In the meantime, Dillard’s will join Saks Fifth Avenue and Macy’s at the Mall at University Town Center, which will open Oct. 16 at University Parkway and Interstate 75.
The Saks store in Southgate will close Wednesday. Dillard’s has not said when it will close its Southgate store, though it likely will be soon. Macy’s has made no announcement about the future of its Southgate department store.
“It looks like the store will close,” Mathes said of Dillard’s. “We do not have a tenant lined up for that space but expect to find a retailer that has a lot of energy and will work well with what Westfield Group has planned.”
Shoppers have reported bare shelves at Dillard’s and the company is no longer stocking the store with current merchandise. Employees have not been told if the store is closing.
The new Dillard’s at the Mall at University Town Center will be 180,000 square feet.
Several of Southgate’s key tenants, such as Talbots, Cache, Gap, Banana Republic, Pottery Barn and Williams-Sonoma, are opening stores inside the Mall at UTC. Many will close their existing Southgate stores, including Banana Republic, Gap and Williams-Sonoma.
What might replace Dillard’s?
What kind of retailer might replace Dillard’s at Southgate?
In Clearwater, Westfield opened a Whole Foods Market in a space once owned by Sears.
A grocery chain, like the Fresh Market, could fit in Southgate as it changes from traditional mall to an open-air lifestyle center.
The vacant Dillard’s space at Westfield’s Sarasota Square Mall was filled by Costco Wholesale in the summer of 2012.
“We have not been informed of the new owners’ plans for the Dillard’s building,” said Shannon Brzuchalski, marketing coordinator for Westfield Group in Sarasota, “but expect any new tenant in the building will be consistent with our vision for the center as the premier boutique shopping, dining, leisure and entertainment destination for Sarasota residents and visitors alike.
“We look forward to making some exciting announcements in the coming weeks and months about new arrivals to Southgate as the center continues its resort-inspired transformation to Westfield Siesta Key.”