Justine Griffin/Sarasota Herald-Tribune—When the Mall at University Town Center debuts in October 2014, it will define itself as the one and only high-end luxury mall in the region, based on tenants such as Gucci, Tiffany’s & Co., Armani and several dozen others that have tentatively committed to the property.
A recent site plan — a working document that most mall builders use to organize tenants before an opening — shows that Michigan-based Taubman Centers and Manatee County-based Benderson Development are attracting not only upscale retailers that would be new to Southwest Florida, but also businesses that are willing to shift from downtown venues and other malls in the region for a home in the new retail hub.
The document, though nearly complete, does not confirm that leases with every retailer have been signed.
But retail sources say that the 880,000-square-foot enclosed mall is 90 percent leased.
New chains poised to enter the market at Interstate 75 and University Parkway include Anthropologie, Michael Kors, Kate Spade, Sony and Salvatore Ferragamo. These are names that often find homes in high-end centers like the Mall at Millenia in Orlando and International Plaza in Tampa, two other Taubman properties in Florida.
“Retailers like Ferrigamo and Gucci will likely lead to bringing more luxury brands to the mall. It’s still early,” said Jeff Green, a retail analyst with Phoenix-based Jeff Green Partners who is familiar with the Southwest Florida retail market.
Benderson Development and Taubman Centers plan to promote the mall at the International Council of Shopping Centers conference in New York this December.
H&M — which stands for Hennes & Mauritz — will open its first store in the Sarasota-Bradenton market at the Mall at University Town Center.
The Swedish retailer sells trendy, fashionable apparel and accessories for young men and women.
H&M has grown in size and popularity in the U.S. during recent years and has expanded into Florida. The first store to open south of Tampa on the Gulf Coast was in Naples last year.
Other tenants likely to join the local luxury mall are brands that have a presence in Southwest Florida and are looking to expand or change their space.
Brooks Brothers will open a new store, creating some uncertainty about its current home in downtown Sarasota’s Pineapple Square. The new store is expected to be about double that size.
Calls to the New York City-based retailer were not returned.
“Everyone wants to go out to that new mall. But it’s going to require a period of repositioning for a lot of retailers that already are in Sarasota,” said Barry Seidel, president and founder of American Property Group of Sarasota Inc., a Sarasota commercial real estate brokerage firm. “The mall is going to be good for the whole area and we will be stronger as a region in the end for it.
“It will bring more to people to the area, and they will buy homes and open other businesses,” Seidel said. “Things will be different, but over a period of time, it will be stronger and better than it was before.”
The list goes on
Other tenants include some with stores in existing malls: Westfield Group’s Sarasota Square and Southgate.
Apparel chains like American Eagle Outfitters, Express, Pacific Sunwear, Banana Republic, Pottery Barn and Williams-Sonoma are expected to make the jump.
Most will likely end their leases with Westfield Group, Seidel said.
“It’s going to hurt, that’s for sure,” he said.
Other chains, like Mac, a cosmetics line, and Gap will likely change venues, too.
Lilly Pulitzer, which has operated a 7,000-square-foot store on St. Armands since 2005, may join the mix. Boston Proper, which opened a store on the circle last month, may open a second store next year at University Town Center.
Canada’s lululemon, a high-end yoga apparel chain that has had a small showroom at Burns Court for nearly three years, will open its first full-line store in the region at the University Parkway mall.
Staff at the yoga store would not confirm the move, but encouraged shoppers to watch the Sarasota store’s Facebook page for announcements. But they already had confirmed in an interview with the Herald-Tribune earlier this year that the brand planned to open a full-line store in Sarasota, and expressed an interest in the Mall at University Town Center.
“It’s surprising to see retailers like lululemon and Anthropologie on board because they are typically not mall tenants,” said Green, the Phoenix-based retail consultant. “They tend to like more urban areas with good retail streets. Maybe they couldn’t find something that felt good to them in Sarasota.”
Apple, too, has chosen the Mall at University Town Center, which would mark the first time the iPhone and iPad maker has opened a store in Florida since 2008.
In rare company
These popular brands, and others, will join the mall’s three confirmed anchors: Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s and Dillard’s.
The impressive list of chains on mall planning documents bodes well for Southwest Florida and for the success of the mall, analysts said.
“The mall has secured an upscale title with retailers like these,” Green said.
When plans to build the $315 million mall stalled during the height of the Great Recession, high-end anchors Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus dropped from the roster.
But with brands like luxury jeweler Tiffany’s & Co. and designer fashions from Salvatore Ferragamo, the mall will compare favorably with other luxury properties across the state.
It also will be the only upscale mall between International Plaza in Tampa and Waterside Shops in Naples, and the only enclosed one between Tampa and Miami.
The Mall at University Town Center is only the second new mall in any phase of construction in the U.S. since 2012. The other, City Creek Center in Salt Lake City, opened in March 2012.