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Multi-million dollar makeover coming to Southgate Mall

Written by on Saturday, July 29, 2023

A big developer is eyeing the 34 acres of ailing retail known as Southgate Mall, and the property is now becoming a test case for affordable housing practices.

By Ramon Lopez

Original Air Date: July 28, 2023


Official Transcript

Johannes Werner: A big developer is eyeing the 34 acres of ailing retail known as Southgate Mall, and the property is now becoming a test case for height, density and affordable housing practices by the city of Sarasota. Benderson Development wants to add a housing component and is asking for a rezone.

That, in turn, triggered a community workshop this Tuesday. WSLR reporter Ramon Lopez was there.

Host: You realize standing in the quiet crossings at Siesta Key on Tamiami Trail how the shopping center mall has fallen on hard times.

No longer operating here are Saks Fifth Avenue, Pottery Barn, William Sonoma and Lucky’s Market. The shopping center’s current list of tenants include Macy’s, CMX CinéBistro, Connor’s Steak and Seafood, Chicos and an Aldis. As a result, a stroll through the mall’s walkways yields rows of vacant storefronts. What stores there are all close at 7pm.

The Crossing at Siesta Key previously known as Westfield Siesta Key and Southgate Mall has suffered the same fate of numerous shopping malls nationwide. Benderson Development hopes to turn things around for the half-empty Sarasota shopping area.

On Tuesday night at the Rise Above Performing Arts Center in the Crossings of Siesta Key, the Kimly-Horn consulting firm and Benderson Development conducted a community workshop. Attended by some 150 to 200 locals, the event gave those who came a chance to speak out about pending comprehensive plan and zoning text amendments, the first items needed to transform the 34 acre long-suffering shopping center into a so-called “new urbanism community.”

Benderson is the owner of the Westfield South Gate Plaza located at 3501 South Tamiami Trail, which is east of South Tamiami, North of Bee Ridge Road, West of South School Street and South of Siesta Drive. The property’s current zoning designation is commercial shopping center. Benderson needs a new urban mixed use classification to construct residential units on the site, including attainable or workforce housing.

Lakewood Ranch-based Benderson bought the 440,000 square foot Crossings at Siesta Key last year for $25 million. The purchase was just the latest in a series of twists and turns and name changes for the shopping center. The previous owner saw tenants start to move out. $8 million was spent in 2016 to renovate the shopping center to bring CinéBistro to Saks’ former space. Plans had called for converting the mall into a so-called “lifestyle center.”

Benderson has been vague about its plans for the Crossings at Siesta Key. The attendees at the meeting got a chance to voice either support or opposition to the multi-million dollar project. They also learned a bit more about what will be a long term build project. Traffic congestion and what new stores they could expect to see were on the minds of the workshop attendees.

Phillip DiMaria, an urban planner and project manager with Kimley-Horn and Todd Mathes, Benderson Development director ran the community workshop. Todd Mathes laid out how the redevelopment or evolve over time. He also described what the area should look like when all the construction dust settles.

Todd Mathes: We do have timelines in terms of the zoning and the comprehensive plan amendments, because the city has a cycle and we would like to enter and stay on that cycle and just create a predictable outcome. So those timelines are set by city, I think the initial settlement date is toward the end of August, and that will play out a series of dates that will lead to hearings. So we’d like to continue on that path and get to a final decision point.

But in terms of the development post that point, there’s a whole additional process. We are fortunate to own and control the entire property at this point. It’s taken us a long time to get here. But the property has a lot of existing retail attendants who have a lot of time left at this property. Some of them, we absolutely love and they’re doing amazingly successful, and we hope that they grow and continue to be amazingly successful in the future.

Some of them, we anticipate, over time, won’t succeed. They just won’t make it, the retail world has changed. So what we’ve asked Kimley-Horn to do and our planning consultants is to set the stage with the zoning and comprehensive plan amendments, if the city is supportive of it, so that as time goes on, we can transition parts of the property to other uses, whether it’s office or residential, or a change in retail. And expect all three to exist.

We do not stand here today with a plan for this property. So it’s going to take time for us to redevelop this property and it’s going to be redeveloped in pieces, one sort of little piece at a time as we’re able to work through it. So unfortunately, I can’t stand here and say, we’re gonna get X, Y and Z of residential in this area and some office here and retail there, and that’s what’s going to happen.

But what I can tell you is that we’re committed to quality projects. We’re committed to the community and we’re very committed to the redevelopment, revisioning of the property.

There’s probably lots and lots of money to be made in selling high-end condos. That’s not us. We’re long-term holders and hopefully that will create a nice vibrant place and reduce some barriers to ownership which, to help the community. But I don’t know, at the end, that that’s a better or worse place than the alternative. It’s just a slightly different place. But we very much intend to own everything here for a very long time.

Host: During the Q&A session, DiMaria and Mathes got an earful.

Unnamed Citizen: I find it difficult to believe that Benderson is willing to sit here for 20 years with all of these empty storefronts, and essentially set up for what should be revenue-generators, when nothing of substance has happened down here, five, six, seven years. So, if you can get more specific than that, about what your hopes and expectations are?

TM: It has taken 20 years to get to a point where it might start development. It’s not easy to develop real estate. It takes a long time, it takes a lot of effort. But you know, here we are, in terms of what we’re proposing.

Host: DiMaria says the zoning amendments being sought will “reconcile a major discontinuity in the city’s blueprint for development and will harmonize the future development pattern of South Tamiami Trail.”

This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.


WSLR News aims to keep the local community informed with our 1/2 hour local news show, quarterly newspaper and social media feeds. The local news broadcast airs on Wednesdays and Fridays at 6pm