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Another Sarasota mall owner seeks to build residences on the property


Redevelopment may lie ahead for the Crossings at Siesta Key Mall, formerly known as Southgate.
Redevelopment may lie ahead for the Crossings at Siesta Key Mall, formerly known as Southgate.
Photo by Elizabeth King
  • Manatee-Sarasota
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Mall redevelopment is sweeping the country as people shop online, and the trend is catching on in Sarasota. One of the trends within the trends is to reimagine the properties as work-live-play lifestyle centers.

Sarasota Square Mall, in south Sarasota, to cite one example, is at the start of a redevelopment process that will involve demolition of the mall building, with the exception of J.C. Penney, to allow for mixed-use development including both commercial and residential buildings.

Now east Manatee County-based Benderson Development, owners of the Crossings at Siesta Key Mall, about 5 miles north of Sarasota Square off of Tamiami Trail, are taking an initial, procedural step toward making its property something more than just a shopping center. (Crossings at Siesta Key used to be named the Southgate Mall, and for several years mall giant Westfield owned both Southgate and Sarasota Square.)

Benderson, through its subsidiaries that own the mall, SWFL Retail Associates LLC and Siesta Retail LLC, has asked to build residential units on the site To do so, it needs the city of Sarasota to amend its comprehensive plan to change the definition of a regional shopping center. 

“We are taking a first step toward densifying the property," Todd Mathes, director of development for Benderson, tells the Business Observer in a statement. "The Sarasota City Plan needs to be amended before a plan can be formalized and presented to the community. While we understand this will not happen overnight, we know it is a fundamental part of any redevelopment effort.”

A legislative hearing on the proposed comprehensive plan amendment is scheduled for today before the Sarasota City Planning Board.

Benderson seeks to develop up to 848 dwelling units on the nearly 34-acre site, with 10% designated "attainable housing," according to documents filed with the planning board.

However, the property at 3501 S. Tamiami Trail is described in the city's comprehensive plan as a regional shopping center, which does not allow for residential uses. 

To permit residential development, the owners are requesting the city’s comprehensive plan be amended. The owners want the site's uses to be expanded to include “development consisting of retail, office, residential, mixed-use development and/or support facilities associated with mixed-use development,” documents filed with the planning board say. Benderson first filed its request in summer 2023 but amended it in 2024 to scale back the number of residences and increase the availability of affordable housing.

Planning staff agreed with the idea of changing the definition of a regional shopping center. The staff's recommendation to change the property's use cited the "nationwide trend" of transforming shopping centers and their large, empty parking lots into residential spaces. Because it is located near already established transit routes and transportation corridors, “staff opinion is that this site would be a very good location to establish transit-oriented, mixed-use development,” city planning officials wrote in their report. 

Various other agencies weighed in on the proposal in the staff report to the planning board. Among them was Sarasota County Public Schools, which found the "level of service for public schools is sufficient" to handle the development.

Traffic provides one wrinkle. Engineering staff found that southbound U.S. 41 as well as the intersection of U.S. 41 and Bee Ridge Road would deteriorate in performance with the added traffic; but signal modifications could restore the level of service without requiring the addition of lanes, according to the report, which said some existing lanes could be modified to allow for right and left turns.

In addition to recommending the city update the uses for commercial shopping centers to allow residential development, planning staff suggested the city update the name of the mall to Crossings at Siesta Key Mall in its planning documents, since current documents call it the South Gate Shopping Center. (It was renamed Crossings at Siesta Key in 2020 after several other iterations, sister publication YourObserver.com reported.)

The owners' request to make a change in use for the mall marks one step in a lengthy process that involves both city and state leaders.

The process for amending the city’s comprehensive plan to allow for residential development at a commercial shopping center has three steps, city officials say in planning documents: 

  • First, there is the May 8 hearing before the planning board at 1:30 p.m.
  • Next, the City Commission must allow for state review through a transmittal hearing.
  • The City Commission must hold an adoption hearing after the state agencies submit their reviews.

At a meeting last summer, project officials with the Crossings at Siesta Key told residents they planned to address the former Southgate development in pieces due to some long-term leases at the property and say the redevelopment may take two decades to complete.

At the Crossings at Siesta Key, the mall would remain but “as time goes on, we can transition parts of the property to office, residential or differing retail," Philip DiMaria, representing the Crossings at Siesta Key Mall owners, said in documents from a July 2023 community workshop on the proposed amendment to the comprehensive plan.

Some tenants still have 20 to 30 years left on their leases at the mall, DiMaria said. Benderson did not immediately respond to a request for information about which tenants have the longest leases.

“It will take a long time to redevelop this,” DiMaria said. “We are patient developers.”

 

author

Elizabeth King

Elizabeth is a business news reporter with the Business Observer, covering primarily Sarasota-Bradenton, in addition to other parts of the region. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University, she previously covered hyperlocal news in Maryland for Patch for 12 years. Now she lives in Sarasota County.

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