- September 29, 2017
Director of Florida Leasing, Benderson Development Co.
Mark Chait has been with Benderson Development Co. for more than 16 years. Having joined the company when it was headquartered in Buffalo, N.Y., Chait has been involved in leasing for the past decade and is the firm's primary spokesman. During that period, Benderson has solidified its spot as one of the largest privately held development firms in the U.S. Today, Chait is the company's executive director of leasing. In that capacity, he oversees the execution of lease commitments for Benderson's properties in and around University Town Center, a collection of retail centers whose centerpiece is the $315 million Mall at University Town Center.
The University Town Center corridor has seen tremendous retail growth this cycle, and the area has successfully become its own retail node. Has development there fulfilled Benderson's vision for the area?
It has. The vision is not complete yet, and there's a lot of development to come in future years, but the area has absolutely fulfilled the vision that began in 1998 when Nate Benderson first bought the former outlet center there off University Parkway.
Both Nate and Randy Benderson understood what it was and what it could be. They had faith in the area and believed in it, and in what the entire corridor there could become, and that was just the beginning. We've certainly been thrilled to be able to fulfill that vision to date and we're also excited about the things to come down the road.
How much retail space does Benderson own or control now surrounding the Mall at University Town Center?
There's about 2.5 million square feet of retail space currently, and another 175,000 square feet of office space, along with a pair of operating hotels and soon to be a third, with Homewood Suites opening near the mall with 133 rooms this fall.
How much more retail space is envisioned near the mall? There's construction now on both sides of Cattlemen Road.
Total additions to what's there now call for another 600,000 square feet to 700,000 square feet of retail space, and we have plans for another 320,000 square feet of office space, along with another three hotels, excluding the Homewood Suites. The hotels are being added because Nathan Benderson Park has become a huge driver of sports tourism, along with the IMG Academy, the Premier Sports Park and other venues.
Construction is also ongoing at the Square at UTC. Are there plans for additional development there and at the Market at UTC? What's the total square footage planned in both of those centers?
Well we never know what the future will bring, but we consider the Market at UTC to be fully built out now. It's 225,000 square feet and fully leased. The Square at UTC also is fully leased now, with about 254,000 square feet there. A new 19,000-square-foot building along Honore Avenue is being completed and the first tenants are just opening. It's been leased for months now.
It all goes back to the original approvals we received, which called for a dense, urban-like area. Cattlemen Road, which bisects the entire area, has become a tremendous retail area, because there's more traffic and more eyeballs on it. The original vision called for a New Urbanist design, a place where people would park their cars and walk. It was always meant to be a dense site.
What's the status of the movie theater and entertainment district that's being planned on University Parkway?
We're still working with a movie theater, though we can't yet announce who it is. We're fine-tuning the overall concept now. We don't have a specific time for a scheduled opening yet, but it's being worked on. We'd like something to be open as soon as possible, but it's not a unilateral decision.
Anecdotal evidence suggests the restaurants at the mall have done much better than originally expected. Are there plans to add restaurants similar to Seasons 52 and Capital Grille in the vicinity?
Our plan is to add more restaurants. We've found they do very well and we want to add even more diversity to the mix. Certainly we're hoping for the caliber and the quality of Seasons 52 and the like. California Pizza Kitchen, for instance, is under construction now. Restaurants have always done well in that area, and we knew with population growth that there would be greater demand for more.
What's in store in terms of future development at Tourist Center Drive at UTC?
The focus now will be on enhancing what we have there now, and most important on that list are planned road improvements to improve accessibility and traffic flow. To do that, we're putting in two roundabouts and an access road to alleviate a stacking problem that has arisen at times.
That's a project that is being undertaken by Benderson Development; it's not a county road project. We'll be building and paying for all that roadwork. We hope to start work there in the next two months. It'll be a phased development, with the roundabouts done first, followed by the loop road. Our raw estimate at this point is it'll cost $4 million. It's a very significant cost, but obviously we want to do things right and take care and enhance the property that's there now for tenants and customers alike.