Upscale cinema could become part of Southgate reboot
Justine Griffin/Sarasota Herald-Tribune
As part of its plan to redevelop and expand Southgate mall, Australian mall developer Westfield Group is considering entertainment options that include an upscale, dine-in movie theater.
“Although there are no announcements to make at this time, I believe you could safely speculate that (a movie theater) prospect or concept would be a good fit with the plan and for the Sarasota market,” said Katy Dickey, a Westfield spokeswoman.
The company unveiled plans for its renamed Westfield Siesta Key mall this week at a retail industry convention in Las Vegas: 46,000 square feet of new space at Southgate and the conversion of the mall — now anchored by Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s and Dillard’s department stores — into more of a lifestyle center focused on dining and entertainment.
Saks is exiting Southgate sometime in 2014 to open a new, larger store at the Mall at University Town Center, under construction at University Parkway and Interstate 75.
Westfield is working to turn Saks’ soon-to-be vacant 40,000-square-foot space into a movie theater that also would serve restaurant-quality food and alcoholic drinks, industry sources say.
Those plans come as luxury movie theaters centered around food, plush seating and wait service have grown in popularity in Florida in recent years.
Cobb Theaters operates a line of CineBistros, dine-in movie theaters with reserved seating in smaller auditoriums, wait service and upscale menus.
CineBistro has two theaters in the Tampa Bay area, one in the upscale Hyde Park neighborhood and another in Wesley Chapel, not far from The Shops at Wiregrass, an outdoor retail center.
“Generally, CineBistros are located in mixed-use development centers that often include a combination of retail, residences and other dining options,” said Emily Gober, a Cobb Theaters spokeswoman.
While Gober confirmed that Cobb is negotiating for additional Florida sites, she declined to comment specifically on Southgate.
“We are still in the decision-making process and cannot provide any additional information at this time,” she said.
Another luxury movie player, Naples-based movie theater company Silverspot Cinemas, said it is not considering the Saks space for a possible expansion.
“I understand that new cinema space will be available at the existing Westfield Southgate Mall, but we have not looked at the Sarasota market,” said Silverspot general manager Gonzalo Ulivi.
Paragon Theaters, which operates a line of smaller luxury theaters in South Florida and along the east coast, was in talks with Benderson Development Co. about opening a theater during early development plans around the new University Town Center mall.
But those discussions stalled and Paragon has not been in contact with Benderson for some time, said chief executive Mike Whalen.
“We’re growing and have been looking in the Sarasota market for a while, but we never wound up signing anything,” Whalen said.
Mark Chait, Benderson’s executive director of leasing for the Southeast, said there are currently no plans to open a dining-centric movie theater at or around the University Parkway mall.
Catering to adults The concept would weave nicely into the tapestry Westfield hopes to achieve at Southgate, said Phoenix-based retail analyst Jeff Green.
“This would broaden the trade area for Southgate and help differentiate it as an entertainment hub — especially since there is no other movie theater of that kind in the market there now,” said Green, president of Jeff Green Partners, which has worked extensively in Southwest Florida.
Unlike traditional cineplexes, the more upscale movie theaters cater mostly to adults, Green noted, and have some showtimes or auditoriums that are restricted to patrons 21 years and older.
The Cinemark Plaza in Boca Raton, for instance, has a “premier level” movie area open only to adults after 5 p.m. on the weekends.
“These cinemas are centered around food and alcohol, so it wouldn’t surprise me if the Southgate Mall location had age requirements,” Green said. “That would keep adults closer to their homes and would likely be a destination for the adult crowd that tend to live closer to the coast anyway.”
Westfield officials made similar statements regarding the future of their Sarasota-area properties during the International Council of Shopping Centers’ conference in Las Vegas this week.
“Sarasota Square has always been our family friendly center in the market,” said William Hecht, Westfield’s senior executive vice president of U.S. development.
“Westfield Siesta Key will have more of a country club feel, and be geared toward adults.”