Rowing venue only one development in progress in University Park

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SARASOTA - The rowing facility at Nathan Benderson Park's proximity to a large development along the north end of Cattlemen Road that will include hotels and shopping centers, in what will make an unusual marriage of commerce and a competition venue.

“I would imagine you don't have a whole lot of malls close to rowing facilities,” a reporter says to Octavio Ortiz, who will manage the The Mall at University Town Center when it opens next year. “I don't know of any,” Ortiz says. “There may be possibly one, but not this type of facility.”

"It's unusual for a facility like this to be so close to so many amenities," says  Mark Chait, Benderson Development’s executive director of leasing for the Southeast.

The mall under construction just north of Benderson Park will have more than 100 stores, including a Macy's, a Saks Fifth Avenue, and a Dillard's. “Sarasota is great trade area when you look at the household incomes,” Ortiz says. “The economy's definitely come back to this area.”

But the mall's 73 acres make up only a fraction of an overall development that will cover 276. As part of its master plan, people who come for events at Benderson Park will not have to travel far to find amenities, like people at other venues of this kind.

“Quite a few of them are really out there. An hour, two hours from any major city, major transportation,” says Sarasota County Commissioner Joe Barbetta. “We're, what, Eight minutes to the airport?”

Barbetta traveled to South Korea where this year's rowing championships happened, and where people did not have such convenient access to dining, shopping and lodging. That might boost Benderson Park, but it should also work the other way, too. “Yes. Absolutely,” Ortiz says. “It's going to be a good synergy between people who want to shop and having an outing and maybe go do a 3 mile run.”

Benderson Development, which manages the county park, has a 50-50 partnership with Taubman, for the mall. The proximity of the rowing venue did not factor into plans for the mall and the other commercial development, says Chait, but Barbetta says that, happy coincidence or not, the shopping mecca near a sports venue will help draw events beyond athletic competitions. “We'll have conferences there, team building with major corporations around the United states where they come in for 5-7 days,” Barbetta says.

While the world rowing championships don't come until 2017, Benderson Park will host large-scale events before then. And, Ortiz says the mall will open October 16th of next year. Not for rowing. Its big event next year? Christmas shopping season.