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Sarasota mall redevelopment, including 848 apartments, inches forward

The city's planning board granted an approval that marks one step toward revitalizing the former Southgate Mall site.

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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A mall in Sarasota is on its way to becoming a walkable neighborhood, with shops, after developers received one of several required approvals to add residential development to the site.

The Sarasota Planning Board, at a May 8 meeting, OK'd residential development at the former Southgate Mall, now known as Crossings at Siesta Key, by voting 4-1 to approve a change in the city’s comprehensive plan.

“It sets the stage for revitalization,” said Philip DiMaria, representing SWFL Retail Associates LLC and Siesta Retail LLC, which own the Crossings at Siesta Key Mall. Both companies are subsidiaries of east Manatee County-based Benderson Development. 

Benderson plans to build up to 848 apartments on the site, 10% of which will be attainable housing, plus a blend of retail and office space. The mix, with housing at the forefront of the comp plan changes, is something of a departure for Benderson, one of the largest retail landlords in the country, though it has done some residential projects.

“Despite this mall being somewhat tired, we’re excited about its future,” DiMaria said, speaking at the May 8 meeting at City Hall. “We envision a place that’s more lively, more community oriented, that has gathering spaces, that is hemmed by tree-lined streets with a high level of walkability, and has bicycle and pedestrian connectivity.”

Tampa’s Hyde Park Village and the Mercato in Naples are ideas of what “we’d like to see at this site in the future,” DiMaria said of the Crossings at Siesta Key Mall.

To permit residential development, the mall owners requested the city’s comprehensive plan be amended to include among the site's uses “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 made its request in summer 2023 but amended it in 2024 to scale back the number of residences and increase the availability of affordable housing.

For the comprehensive plan amendment to take effect, more steps are required: The City Commission must allow for state review through a transmittal hearing. Then the state would have a 30-day review process. Finally, the City Commission must hold an adoption hearing after the state agencies submit their reviews.

‘Curated neighborhood’

The mall once known as Southgate was built in 1956 as one of Sarasota’s first grocery-anchored shopping centers, according to DiMaria. It became enclosed and air-conditioned in 1988, he said.

Today major tenants at the mall include Cinebistro and Connors Steak & Seafood, both of which have done “well,” according to DiMaria, who said for the most part, the mall has “struggled with tenant mix.” 

One tenant – Katherine Michelle Tanner of Tree Fort Productions – said at the hearing she was appreciative of all Benderson has done to bring the mall into the 21st century. “We do love having you as a landlord,” she said. Going forward, she asked that the company work on “maintaining the businesses” and avoid supersaturation.

Commercial space will be a “significant” part of the mixed-use project at the 34-acre site on South Tamiami Trail between Bee Ridge Road and Siesta Drive, Todd Mathes, director of development for Benderson, told the planning board.

A site boundary map of Crossings at Siesta Key.
Courtesy image

“We do envision it as a redevelopment of a mixed-use center that has a curated neighborhood, significant retail experiences, some amount of office [space] and certainly housing as well,” Mathes said.

One planning board member said he traditionally thought of Benderson as a commercial developer.

“When I see Benderson, I see malls,” planning board member Daniel Clermont said. He asked whether the company planned to develop the residential piece then hand it over to someone else.

“We do intend to own and operate the entire property for the long term,” Mathes said. “We’re long-term owners and so we see it as a rental product. We have developed, owned and operated rental before. We do have a partner from the mid-Atlantic that is in this business, that has a similar outlook, to sort of guide us in developing a quality product and helping us with it because we are, at our core, bread and butter, shopping center redevelopers.”

Redeveloping the mall will span years and be done in phases, according to Mathes.

“A lot of times when a developer attempts to develop a mixed-used center all at once, it feels very contrived, and that’s not our goal,” Mathes said. “We want to create something that feels very organic, of the neighborhood, and has real strength, and the way to do that is incrementally on a property of this scale.”

When asked about the timetable for the project, Mathes said six months from now, Benderson would “probably start with some retail reorientation.”

Parts of the mall would also be removed during the construction project.

“There will be a lot of demolition and a lot of street-front retail,” Mathes said. “There are parts of the building that need to go.” 

Housing will be constructed in two phases or four smaller phases, Mathes said.

Sticking point

Benderson officials had to make some changes of their own on the project to win approval of the comp plan changes. 

In its initial proposal, Benderson proffered that its first 500 housing units rented or sold would include at least 50 attainable housing units, and its first 750 housing units would contain at least 84 attainable housing units.

Some planning board members were uneasy that if there were fewer than 500 housing units, attainable housing may not come to fruition at all.

While Clermont was in favor of refreshing the mall site, he said the attainable housing portion was a “sticking point” for him. And he was not alone.

Board member Shane Lamay said he was worried “without any guarantee,” the attainable housing may be lost.

“I’d be much more comfortable with a guarantee,” board member Douglas Christy added.

As a result, the board came up with new benchmarks, authorizing a change in the comprehensive plan only if the developer includes at least 20 attainable housing units in its first 400 units constructed that are rented or sold; at least 50 attainable housing units in the first 450 housing units that are rented or sold; and at least 85 attainable housing units in the first 750 units that are rented or sold.

Local pushback

In addition, the planning board's approval did not come without controversy.

Planning board member Terrell Salem, the lone vote against amending the city’s comprehensive plan, advocated for more attainable housing units. He suggested developers use the Live Local Act, which would require 40% of the units to be attainable housing and permit 200 units per acre.

“We’re going to allow them to give us 10% [of units as attainable] housing — maybe,” Salem said. “We need housing, and we can’t just give this away.”

The city should not intervene and change its comprehensive plan when the Live Local Act would give the developers a way to build without requiring legislative action, contended Salem.

After discussions with the community and extensive planning, Benderson did not want to develop a project with more density on the property, Mathes said, so it would not be employing the Live Local Act.

Salem was not the only one who voiced concern about the plan.

Richard Martin, who identified himself as having a place with his wife on Bahia Vista Street, told the planning board he felt the community was getting the “short end of the economic stick" since Benderson was drawing traffic from Sarasota and driving it to University Town Center and Manatee County instead.

“This extensive promotion is literally gutting Sarasota and leaving coastal and downtown Sarasota on the short end of the economic stick by literally shifting necessary significant economic commercial activity and significant retail activity exclusively to that region,” Martin said. “Eliminating [the Crossings at] Siesta Key Mall along with the now gone Sarasota Square Mall leaves the vast residential community of coastal and downtown Sarasota without a convenient community retail, shopping and restaurant destination of any sizable significance.”



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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