- May 27, 2021
Commercial real estate brokers scoffed a decade ago when they heard Benderson Development intended to build a supersized industrial park filled with enormous truck bays in the Sarasota-Bradenton region.
The concern was there wasn't enough business to support it, even in the boom. Brokers were wary of any complex that would sit empty and dent occupancy rates. “(Company founder) Nate Benderson took a lot of flack for that project,” Benderson executive Larry Fineberg says. “They didn't think this was the right market for that.”
But that project, the Sarasota-Bradenton Commerce Center, has turned into a 700,000-square-foot gem. There are currently more than a dozen tenants, from national pretzel company Snyder's of Hanover to Furniture Warehouse, a local chain. The center is 93% occupied.
Now Manatee County-based Benderson, one of the largest privately owned real estate firms in the country, hopes to duplicate that success with its latest commercial real estate project, the SRQ Tech Park. SRQ are the call letters for the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.
SRQ Tech Park, just like the Sarasota-Bradenton Commerce Center in 2004, is a counterintuitive calculation that the area needs, and can absorb, a facility built for big distribution and delivery. Phase one of the multimillion-dollar project, on 27 acres near U.S. 301 and Tallevast Road in Manatee County, is currently under construction, with an expected finish date of later this year.
Fineberg declines to disclose a total construction price for the project, where each building will have 28-foot ceilings and top-level dock loading spaces. That height, says Fineberg, is rare in Sarasota-Bradenton, where most industrial space is built flex warehouse/office, with lower loading docks.
“We're big fans of high-bay distribution space,” says Fineberg, who oversees Benderson's industrial, office and warehouse properties nationwide. “This is the type of space people want to see, but there are not a lot of them in this community, for whatever reason. We feel like we are providing something that doesn't exist in this market.”
The hunch has begun to pay off: Benderson has already signed two tenants for phase one of SRQ Tech Park, planned at 233,000 square feet. The biggest tenant so far is Evansville, Ind.-based Berry Plastics, which manufactures plastic caps and covers for food and beverage products. Berry Plastics will move from a nearby facility into 150,000 square feet at SRQ Tech Park. A second tenant, a granite countertop firm, signed a lease for 12,500 square feet.
Fineberg says a few other deals for the remaining 70,500 square feet of phase one are in final negotiation stages. “As it comes out of the ground,” says Fineberg, “we are getting more and more interest.”
SRQ Tech Park, adds Fineberg, has several other market advantages, beyond high ceilings and loading docks. For one, the location combines high traffic, with 35,000 cars a day that pass it, with direct access to U.S. 301. Benderson Development also bought the land out of foreclosure in 2012 for $850,000, according to Manatee County property records. That low price, about $31,000 an acre, provides flexibility on lease rates, says Fineberg.
Local real estate broker Anthony Mazzucca, under the Blackpoint Group LLC, previously owned some of the land around SRQ Tech Park. He sought to build some industrial space there, too, but the market slowdown killed those plans. “If I had the money, I would have held onto it,” Mazzucca says. “But we couldn't make a go of it.”
Now Benderson has its chance. Yet even with the early leasing success, Fineberg says some people, just like with the Sarasota-Bradenton Commerce Center, have their doubts about the market need. “We realize some people think this project doesn't make sense on the site,” says Fineberg. “But we think it does.”.