Shopping power shift looms as mall opening nears

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Posted: Tuesday, June 24, 2014 4:35 pm

SARASOTA, Fla. -- The face of shopping on the Suncoast is changing as construction at the new Mall at University Town Center continues to move forward, and renovations come to another local shopping destination.

If you've driven near the intersection on University Parkway and I-75 in the past few weeks, it's clear that the new mall is becoming a reality quickly. For some it can't come soon enough, but others are concerned it will affect their favorite shopping destinations.

The countdown to the grand opening of the Mall at University Town Center continues; walls are up, signage is in place, parking lots are paved, and landscaping has begun.

"We are perfectly on schedule. We will be opening October 16th. The anchors are making tremendous progress in their locations. As you can see, Cheesecake Factory is doing an amazing job, and their location is almost near complete," says director of marketing Kim Dominguez.

Mall at University Town Center 6/24/14

As more restaurants and stores sign leases in the new mall, the fate of Sarasota's two Westfield malls is raising concern among loyal shoppers.

"I am very concerned, because Pottery Barn and Williams Sonoma, and all the small shops I suppose, are all going and I don't know about the others," says Southgate Mall shopper Jean Georgiades.

The three anchor stores currently at Westfield Southgate Mall -- Macy's, Dillards, and Saks -- will soon open as the anchor stores for the Mall at University Town Center.

Although the fate of their Southgate locations is unclear, many locals expect they will leave.

But shoppers say there is still a following for both Westfield malls.

"I really think in the long run, still the same people. Because being in Venice they're older, they're set in their ways, they're not going to want to get onto 75 and come here. So I really don't think it's going to be that much of an impact," says Venice resident Brenda Rothenberger.

From floor to ceiling, Southgate mall has already put millions into renovations to redevelop the mall with a plan in mind for the market they are reaching. "It's close to downtown, so it does pull at lunch, and right after work, people that work down there. So I think it will survive," says Lakewood Ranch resident Virginia Brockman.

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