Mayor of Main Street
Pat Westerhouse brings years of experience from Tampa's Old Hyde Park Village to Lakewood Ranch's Main Street.
COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE FOCUS
by Rob Brannon | Staff Writer
Pat Westerhouse is marching briskly down an office hallway when she notices a well-dressed man standing by a door.
Westerhouse shoots him a quick nod and salutation. He responds and then inquires about locks. Westerhouse ensures him it will be handled.
Locks are a rather mundane subject for the person who recently became general manager and leasing representative for Lakewood Ranch's Main Street. Downstairs as she walks out into the burgeoning shopping and entertainment district, Westerhouse explains.
"It's a little bit like being mayor," she says of her job. "You get it all."
There is a duality to Westerhouse's role. She is in a high-profile position with plenty of authority and pressure. That, she said, is the big picture. The little picture comes from the tenants and guests, who may see her as the go to person for every problem big or small. As Westerhouse strolls toward Main Street's fountain, an aging pickup truck pauses nearby. The driver shouts out of the window - he's heard there's a barbershop in the area. Westerhouse amicably points the way.
This is all nothing new for Westerhouse, who began her duties on June 1. Before coming to Lakewood Ranch she spent more than two decades working at Old Hyde Park Village in Tampa, a residence and shopping destination that is in many ways comparable to Main Street. People, she says, have often asked her how she stayed with the job for so long. It's in the complexities, she said.
Finding a path
"Nobody grows up and thinks they're going to be a shopping center manager," Westerhouse says.
She was no exception. After moving to Florida as a teenager, Westerhouse headed to college not sure what she wanted to do. She went into accounting, but a string of bad grades had her questioning her choice. Her family, mindful of the job security accountants enjoy, encouraged her to stay the course. She graduated from the University of South Florida and began work at Coopers & Lybrand as an audit supervisor.
The job, Westerhouse says, included travel and long hours. She remembers spending a summer in Gainesville working on an audit at Shands Hospital. As soon as audits were complete, she would move onto the next company and never experience day-to-day operations firsthand.
After five years, an opportunity became available with Old Hyde Park Village's developer. Co-workers discouraged her from taking the job, partly because the developer was Canadian, leaving some to wonder if he would stay with the project. But Westerhouse decided to pursue the opportunity.
When Westerhouse began at Old Hyde Park, the developer was knocking down and moving houses. She describes the nascent development, arising from one of Tampa's oldest and most historic neighborhoods, as "hugely controversial."
The project had its problems, she says. A severe spike in interest rates halted construction for a time and provided ammunition for naysayers. Later, while a competing project filled up with tenants quickly, Old Hyde Park was slow to sign vendors. The other development is now gone, she says, and the Village has grown in age and reputation. Westerhouse credits the methodical search for tenants.
"(We) waited to do what was right," she says. "(We) didn't fill spaces to fill spaces."
Westerhouse worked as a controller and vice president before earning the general manager/leasing representative job title. She is proud of a number of accomplishments, including working in the political arena to secure a rubber-wheel trolley operating between the Village and downtown Tampa a few miles away.
Westerhouse came to Lakewood Ranch after a developer change at Old Hyde Park served as catalyst for her departure. It was a divinely fortuitous change of scenery, Westerhouse says.
After years of living in Clermont and with Interstate 4, she had looked for a residence nearer to the Tampa Bay area. With an affinity for the rural life, she found a home in Parrish in 2001. Now, her drive is an easy 20 minutes.
The similarities between Old Hyde Park and Main Street are many. Old Hyde Park includes both residential and commercial development, and has a movie theater not unlike one soon to open in Lakewood Ranch. While there are some differences, both developments seem to cater to similar tenants. Westerhouse says she knows of one store moving into Lakewood Ranch that Old Hyde Park is also courting.
Old Hyde Park Village contains city roads and must deal with a historic district. Working with government, Westerhouse says, was part the job. Main Street has to deal with none of that. It's located entirely within Lakewood Ranch development without city streets or historic districts.
But Main Street is in the midst of many of the growth challenges the Village has faced. Westerhouse said she was encouraged that, like Old Hyde Park, Main Street has carefully and methodically filled out its tenant roster.
"I actually think they're starting better than Hyde Park," Westerhouse says.
Since its inception, Old Hyde Park has become a major destination. drawing patrons from throughout Tampa Bay. Main Street started with a growing immediate population, Westerhouse says, and with only a couple of comparable shopping destinations within the Sarasota/Manatee area. She says she hopes to increase Main Street's regional recognition and drawing power.
To do that, Westerhouse is working hard to bring Main Street's Web site online. She also is working with the local convention and visitors bureaus. Main Street also has implemented Music on Main events, which run through October, and Westerhouse said other events, like art festivals, are in the works. That, coupled with increased dining options, will bring more exposure to Main Street and its businesses, Westerhouse says.
Westerhouse says she also hopes to create a real Main Street atmosphere. At Old Hyde Park, she says, condominium residents began taking ownership of the community. She remembers events such as the passing of the Olympic torch through the development. She expects the same result at Main Street. It's something that can't be found in a mall, she says.
"The community is much more involved," she says. "It's sort of like a living, breathing entity."
At a Glance
Cost: $30 million
Space: 120,000 square feet of retail space; 46,000 square feet of Class-A office space; a six-screen 690 seat movie theater; and 20 condos.
Shopping: Stores include local clothing boutiques, restaurants and a barber shop, as well as national chains, including Fort Myers-based Chico's FAS and Ritz Camera.