Fine-tuning Continues In and Around UTC Mall


Less than a year after its October 2014 opening, the Mall at University Town Center (UTC) and its immediate vicinity off Interstate 75 continue to evolve, with plenty of projects on tap in and around this major shopping hub.

One of these developments, which would likewise impact upon nearby Manatee-Sarasota communities, is the scheduled August 2015 start in the construction of the diverging diamond interchange (DDI) at Interstate 75-University Parkway. The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) expects to complete this $82 million project by September 2017.

Benderson Park factored in

Fine-tuning Continues In and Around UTC Mall

The first of its kind in Florida, the DDI is geared towards easing traffic flow around the interstate and University Parkway which tend to be congested during rush hours and where traffic has grown heavier with the opening of the Mall at UTC. The interchange’s 2017 completion has been targeted to also help ease traffic flow when the nearby Nathan Benderson Park hosts the World Rowing Championship from September to October of that year.

In a park-related development, the FDOT has informed the Sarasota County Commission that it is agreeable with signage installation for Benderson Park both at the southbound and northbound lanes of I-75. Only a written request from the commission and the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization would be needed for FDOT approval for signs providing interstate travelers directions to the park.

Overpass construction

The more contentious plan for road infrastructure near the Benderson Park and the UTC Mall, however, is the planned construction of an overpass at Interstate 75 which would link Cattlemen Road with the proposed southern extension of Lakewood Ranch Blvd. This overpass would open an alternative route to traffic-prone University Parkway for vehicles en route to the UTC Mall and Nathan Benderson Park.

Residents around this area are not against the overpass per se. However, folks living in The Meadows, in particular, are worried that the county’s proposal for the overpass to have a new road connector from Cattlemen Road to Honore Avenue, which flanks their community, will result in more traffic on their already-burdened access road. Other nearby neighborhoods, such as Deer Hollow, De Soto Lakes, De Soto Acres and Longwood Run, also have similar issues on where the new road link will eventually be located.

Phased mall expansion

Besides this overpass concern, local neighborhood associations can also be expected to keep vigil on how a recently approved expansion of the UTC Mall will pan out. This end-June of 2015, the Sarasota County Commission approved an updated plan of mall co-owner Benderson Development to add 600,000 square feet of retail space and 100,000 square feet of office space to its University Park property.

This expansion will center on a 281-acre parcel located southwest of the 880,000-square-foot UTC Mall. With the updated plan, the mall’s square footage will increase by 30%. This will create 3,800 permanent jobs as well as generate employment for 3,000 during construction. While many local residents recognize these economic merits, some are concerned about the expansion’s impact on the environment as well as on vehicular traffic.

To address these, the approved updated plan provides some environmental mitigation measures and requires phased-in expansion from 2015 to 2019 to ensure it doesn’t exceed 484,000 square feet a year. Also, the county can suspend the project if its traffic impact turns out worse than expected, and Benderson is required to resolve the problem before resuming construction. Annual traffic studies by the developer are likewise required to be undertaken.