Study: Sarasota retail has 'room for improvement'

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- With the new Mall at University Town Center set to open in less than 3 months, there is potential for even more retail and restaurant growth in Sarasota. At least that's what the city's hired retail expert has discovered.

Bob Gibbs, a retail consultant and former executive with the very company building the new mall, has presented the results of his retail market study to the Sarasota community and city officials -- proving Sarasota as one of the strongest markets in Florida.

“You have really strong demographics: people with high incomes, people with a lot of disposable money, you have a lot of tourists…and almost 60,000 office workers. So that equates to a lot of spending for retail goods and services."

The study focused on the spending and sales of four business districts, including downtown Sarasota, St. Armands, the Rosemary District, and the Martin Luther King Way area.

Data suggests there is strong potential in all four areas for more retail and restaurants, starting with downtown.

And based on pure data, Gibbs says the MLK corridor has the best potential with a demand for more specialty restaurants and stores. The Rosemary District demands design and the arts; St. Armands, more restaurants; and downtown more retail.

But there are some challenges. "Many of the storefronts today are out of date by about 25 or 30 years."

To keep up with the luxury and standards set by the Mall at University Town Center, Gibbs says it’s necessary to update the storefronts, which could happen in less than a year if implemented. “I agree with him 100% on that. Again, we have to spruce it up. You know it's really sad, the condition of the sidewalks. The storefronts need updating," says resident Vic Scully.

Other challenges include the current limited hours of operation, and parking management.

But the clock is ticking, with new mall opening across town in just 3 months.

Merchants, however, believe the hype will only last for a short time. “I think curiosity will take some people out there a couple times, but after that I think they're going to come back to what's comfortable and what they can walk to and what they know they can get everything they need," says Laura Baron at Pastry Art.

Moving forward, the city, along with the business community and other agencies, will take a look at the findings and consider how to implement both change and expansion.

My name is Scott.