John Hielscher/Sarasota Herald-Tribune—With competition from a sparkling new mall looming next fall, Westfield Southgate Mall has taken the first in a series of steps to renovate and expand the longtime city retail center.
An initial phase, under way this week, will include installing new travertine tile, upgraded furnishings, fresh landscaping and new fountains and lighting.
The facelift is the preface for a larger revamp that will transform the mall into more of a lifestyle center, with outdoor dining and other entertainment.
Westfield, which unveiled plans for renovation in May, intends to start the bulk of the work at the mall that will be renamed “Westfield Siesta Key” next year.
In addition to the renovation, Australia-based owner Westfield Group will add 46,000 square feet of space in a parking lot facing Tamiami Trail, creating an outdoor “street-like” feel with stone cobbled walkways and open-area, covered paths.
While Westfield won’t reveal details — or new retailers — until sometime in 2014, the renovation is the first phase in a “multi-million dollar investment” in the property, said Sam Davidson, a Westfield district marketing director for Florida.
“It’s Westfield’s philosophy to continually invest and reinvest in our properties,” Davidson said. “The plan for Westfield Southgate is the perfect model of that commitment.
“We’re taking a very strong shopping center and adding new elements and energy to enhance its appeal for Gulf coast residents, the many domestic and international visitors as well as for our retail partners that cater to these shoppers,” Davidson added. “Retailer interest in this project remains very high.”
The renovation comes less than a year before Southgate is slated to lose blue-chip anchor Saks Fifth Avenue and other merchants to the Mall at University Center, a nearly 900,000-square-foot enclosed retail hub slated to open in October that has captured the region’s retail buzz in recent months.
That $315 million mall, also to be anchored by Macy’s and Dillard’s department stores, may entice other current Southgate merchants to University Parkway and Interstate 75.
The 52-store Southgate may be looking to generate some attention of its own by starting the renovation now, as well as to assure shoppers that it is serious about revitalizing the mall, said Barry Seidel, president of the commercial real estate brokerage American Property Group of Sarasota Inc.
“In terms of public relations, it needs it badly,” Seidel said. “People are worried that it’s going to be empty. They may be trying to allay fears in the community and show that this is the beginning of the reconstruction and rebranding of the center.”
The tile is now being replaced throughout the mall and will be completed in February, Davidson said. In the spring, the mall will refurbish restrooms, introduce an interior trellis system, fountains and new lighting.
“All work that is included in this revitalization is completed at night, and it will not affect holiday shopping,” Davidson said. “We’ve seen a great response during the first few days of work with increased traffic and sales.”
The renovation also will include upgraded landscaping and a new color scheme.
“They are sprucing up now because the new shopping mall is coming on line, and they want Southgate to look as good as possible prior to that center’s opening,” Arizona-based retail consultant Jeff Green said, referring to the University Town Center mall being developed by a joint venture between Taubman Centers Inc. and Benderson Development Co.
“They are trying to get some buzz going. It’s quicker to jump on the facelift and not wait for the expansion,” Green added.
Southgate’s renovation might also convince some current mall stores to remain open there, Green said.
“Even if they are opening sister stores in the new mall, they are trying to keep them open a bit longer to show that there is support for two stores in town,” he said.
At the same time, Westfield officials may be looking to poach some downtown Sarasota merchants to fill the new lifestyle center, with upscale cookware chain Sur la Table a possible candidate.
That need could arise if Southgate stalwarts like Pottery Barn, Williams-Sonoma and Coach head to University Town Center.
The Fresh Market, an upscale grocer that now has two local stores, also may be eyeing Southgate.
The expansion project may also include a dine-in movie theater, part of the mall’s effort to capture the nightlife element.
Seidel calls Southgate “an important property” that can be successful without Saks.
“I’ve always said that people go to Saks to go to Saks, and they don’t go into the mall,” he said. “This renovation will make it a much better center. Now, people will utilize the whole mall.”
The Australian-based mall developer announced the mall’s plans for redevelopment in May at the International Council of Shopping Centers Recon Convention in Las Vegas. The mall will add 46,000 square feet of new space to the existing property. Construction was supposed to begin by the end of the year, though plans have been pushed back.
Westfield’s plans for Southgate Mall comes after an announcement by its premiere anchor Saks Fifth Avenue — and possibly others — to leave the Sarasota mall in favor of a new, $315 million enclosed retail hub being developed at Interstate 75 and University Parkway by a joint venture between Taubman Centers Inc. and Manatee County’s Benderson Development Co.
Last year, a New York-based real estate firm O’Connor Capital Partners bought 49.9 percent interest in six of Westfield’s Florida malls in March, a deal that included both Sarasota properties.
The first phase of the multimillion dollar investment at Southgate Mall includes the installation of new travertine tile, upgraded furnishings, fixtures, outdoor landscaping and color scheme, according to a statement by Westfield Group.
This initial phase will also feature refurbished shopper amenities, a new interior trellis system, fountains and new lighting.
“It’s Westfield’s philospohy to continually invest and reinvest in our properties,” said Sam Davidson, district marketing director of Florida for Westfield. “The plan for Westfield Southgate is the perfect model of that commitment. We’re taking a very strong shopping center and adding new elements and energy to enhance its appeal for gulf coast residents, the many domestic and international vistiors as well as for our retail partners that cater to these shoppers.”
The mall’s name will also change, from Southgate Mall to Westfield Siesta Key. Westfield officials claim that “retailer interest in the project remains very high.” The next phases of renovation will include bringing in new chain stores and rebranding the shopping center. Those additions will be announced next year.