Saturday, October 25, 2014

OCTOBER 26, 2014


After weeks of promotion, front page newspaper articles, television live shots, email, advertising and more,  UNIVERSITY TOWN CENTER is finally open.  AND what an opening it was.  From the GALA which drew over 3000 and raised at least $300,000  for 10 local charities to the opening weekend attracting swarms of shoppers, gawkers.  From my perspective UTC opened without a hitch....

FIRST...The Gala.  What a party.  As good as any opening  we've ever attended.  Though the numbers of party goers in no way crowded the mall to any discomfort, the number necessitated multi food and drink stations. 

Benderson/Taubman accomplished that feat with numerous food stations throughout the mall as well as encouraging the several restaurants to serve passed food while either sitting of standing at the restaurant. And lest I forget, if you valeted your car there were more parking attendants than I've ever seen at such an event.

Entertainment from Sailor Circus to Circus Sarasota to singers and even ballet models inside Saks as well as "outside" posing in settings more accustomed to mannequins than actual live performers.  Stores were open for shopping with several offering discounts and other incentives to shop.   In addition, each of us received a $20 gift card as we entered to use at any store in Mall.  And all this while entertainers performed on stage or in alcoves or almost anywhere you travelled.  If those attending didn't walk away with a positive feeling about our new SARASOTA treasure, then shame on them.

SECOND....THE MALL AT UNIVERSITY TOWN CENTER....Several years in the planning along with delays from Westfield lawsuit and an untimely recession, the Mall opened last Thursday.  Expectations were high due to tremendous promotion not only on part of Mall owners, retailers but incessant front page newspaper coverage.

I am glad to report UTC not only will meet your expectations, but even exceed them.  This is a stunning bright building with two stories of stores and restaurants for every pocket book. 

From a highly fashionable SAKS to GAP and much more in between you will be swept away by the convenience of shopping from one end of the other.  We are fortunate to have our own APPLE STORE which is large enough for the crowds surely to be attracted to its showroom.  It is also easy to make an appointment on line for your various Apple issues.

CRATE AND BARREL has two floors of wonderful merchandise.  That they are next to POTTERY BARN and Z GALLERY is either a coincidence or planned.  I am not going to list all the stores.  There are store locaters all over the Mall for that along with printed directories.  Go now before Christmas shopping begins as people from miles away will be coming our way in a few weeks.

Although STARBUCKS is surely not a new name here, it nevertheless has two locations; one smack dab in the center of the Mall and the second with seating inside and out at MACY'S.

In addition, several stores are under construction and will have staggered openings over the next several months into 2015.  H&M,
Kiehls , Arhaus Furniture, Peter Elliot, Anthropologie,  Yo! Sushi, Burger and Beer Joint among the better known names.  When completely occupied there will be well over 100 stores, restaurants, specialty foods and kiosks to choose from. 

THIRD.....Parking and traffic.  During opening weekend and again this past week there has been ample parking in the Mall lots.  In addition there are spaces along Cattleman and in the Target Center across the street.  For a small charge, Valet is also at your service.  The traffic rear created by media was an illusion as was the conceived lack of parking space.

In cooperation with Sarasota and Manatee police and sheriff departments as well as UTC's hired traffic control personnel traffic flows smoothly in and out at all times of the day; even when Nik Wallenda is practicing.  For the grand opening, horse ridden police were guiding traffic as well.  Traffic control was a well coordinated effort that to my knowledge worked to perfection. Even this weekend with thousands attending the DRAGON BOAT event at NATHAN BENDERSON PARK traffic moved freely throughout the complex.

FOURTH.....THE RESTAURANTS.....Most are open with a few coming soon.  I've sampled three....KONA GRILL....SEASONS 52 and CHEESECAKE FACTORY..... all open for lunch and dinner with outside patio seating. Of the three, Cheesecake Factory is busy most times of day and requires a wait of several minutes.  You can beat the wait by going to bar area and waiting for a tabletop or seat at the bar.  If you've been to a Cheesecake Factory you know the menu is huge with everything from pasta to flat bread to salads to full course meals topped off by a wide variety of cheesecake. For menu and operating schedule click here.

Kona Grill has several locations and we are fortunate they chose SARASOTA as one of them.  Here again, literally from soup to nuts.  Sushi, as good as it gets along with burgers, flat bread, salads, seafood, luscious hamburgers or sliders.  Crowed as expected lunch and dinner hours, BUT you can go on line to their website or Open Table and RESERVE a table which is honored within minutes of your arrival. For complete menu, wine list and reservations click here.

Seasons 52 is far different from Cheesecake Factory or Kona Grill.  Their menu is creative with healthy alternatives of low calorie items.  Many of the items are standard and carried over from season to season, but now the special  Fall menu is a chef's creation of meals you think of when the leaves turn and we get ready for the special season of Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Here too you can find flat breads along with a variety of seafood, meat and unusual vegetable dishes you won't find anywhere else in SARASOTA. For current menu and reservations click here. 

I know most of you who read this will visit The Mall at University Town Center several times this season.   The Mall opens at 8am for walkers who don't like the heat or winter cold.  If grandchildren visit there is a play area on the ground level near Dillard's.  Don't let the fear of traffic or crowds keep you away.  The aisles are spacious and as I stated earlier traffic is under control with ample parking for everyone.

JUST ANNOUNCED.....UTC is one of only 10 malls in the country partnering with DISNEY this holiday season presenting a FROZEN interactive Ice Palace where children of all ages will be treated to a snowfall within the palace while music from one of Disney's most successful movies in years  will be playing.  Of course each Ice Palace includes a gift shop with toys, dress-up items and the Frozen DVD, including the just released sing along version. Opening November 6 thru Christmas Eve; a great stop for your Thanksgiving and Christmas young visitors.

JIM'S RANT.....Reading the letters to editor this week in the Herald Tribune you have to wonder whether some people have been living on Mars.  Sarasota has needed a Mall of this quality for some time now.  Sure it competes with Main Street and The Circle for customers, but there is room for all.  Sarasota is no longer that sleepy city between Tampa and Naples, but a vibrant cultural and retail gem on Florida's West Coast, and the envy of those afore mentioned neighbors.

I'll return next week with more restaurant reviews as well as a look at current movies, television and a review of the latest Grisham always thank you to Tracy for her editing and consultation....JIM

BOO...................................HAPPY HALLOWEEN..................BOO............BOO

Saturday, October 18, 2014

OCTOBER 19, 2014


The  season kicks off this week with two performances of a terrific ballet Secret Garden.  There was an advance showing of this wonderful show this summer and I can attest as a non-ballet person I totally enjoyed the performance.  Tickets are limited so act fast if you want to see it.

A few weeks back I wrote about several courses at various venues this coming season.  The Ringling College Library Association is offering a five part lecture series Transformation in Art and Design.  Open to members as well as non-members, the series delves into architecture, home, fashion, the artist and other topics.  For more information call 941-925-1343.

Here is some good news for those of us who LOVE STONE CRABS....They're back and will be available until May 15, 2015.   So before you get too caught up in the UTC festivities check with your favorite source to find availability.  Predictions are for a plentiful crop this year.  Unfortunately, we heard the same noise last year.  I'll try some in a few weeks and let you know, but if you taste first please let me know where, how much and quality. Caution:  they are pricey this year!!

If you are one of the few who have not read the book or seen the movie this is a must.  GONE GIRL is easily the fall's best new movie so far with Ben Affleck giving his best performance ever as a husband unhappily married to a conniving, evil woman played to perfection by Rosamund Pike.  The two-plus hours fly by and though I knew the ending it still was a shock when it happened.  Gone Girl has been #1 at the box-office for two weeks running.

The television season is in full swing with several new shows worthy of mention.  Though I have seen only a few, two stand out and one I can do without.  I'll start with CBS's Monday crime drama Scorpion.  Though moving through plot lines at frantic pace, I found it predictable, at times boring, and similar to the successful CSI franchise. It's ratings are due to CBS lock on Monday nights.   However, there are two shows worthy of your time.

My favorite, though not new new is American Horror Story.  In its third season the focus is on freaks similar to what we witnessed as kids at the circus.  Titled Freak Show it features a returning cast led by Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates and Angela Basset among others.  Though not for everyone, this FX mini-series is different from almost anything else on television.  That the writers and creators came up with Glee as well is astonishing. American Horror Story airs on Wednesdays at 10 pm.

Maybe the best new network drama stars Octavia Davis as an attorney and college instructor in How To Get Away with Murder.  It is similar in style and pace to Scandal, though at this point better because it is fresh and different.  Davis gives Kerry Washington a run for her money as the attorney who will defend her client at all costs.  From Shanda Rhymes, Murder is part of a three hour Rhymes block on ABC Thursdays.

In-BetweenBridgeClub/ Unit 102 is hosting a charity bridge game to benefit all faiths food bank  on Sunday November 2, 2014 at 12:00 pm.

The event costs $12.50 and includes bridge and a TOO JAY'S catered lunch with choice of either Corned beef sandwich, Turkey wrap, Chicken Salad sandwich and more.  There will be door prizes, lots of Master points along with a donation to SARASOTA'S most successful food bank.  Reservations are required.  For more information please contact Merle Greenwald at 941-366-1106.  In addition to your monetary donation, you are encouraged to bring a non-perishable food item. We are interested in door prizes.  Please contact me if you can provide same.

For those of us awaiting the opening of PANERA BREAD across the street from University Town Center I am happy to report a grand opening date of November 4.  Joseph Bank is already open for business in the same out parcel.

JIM'S RANT....I'm sure you're wondering where is UTC update? I've saved that for my rant.  Next week, after all the HYPE is over, I'll give you my own take on shopping, restaurants, traffic and parking. One observation from several trips over the weekend.  As of now, after all the warnings about traffic jams on I75 and University...there were none!!!!  Didn't I rant that weeks ago?  I was able to use the Cattleman Road extesnion from Fruitville and had no trouble at all!!! Traffic in and out of the mall is handled with great efficiency and detail.

UTC as it is a great addition to our  landscape.  The opening of a mall also flies in the face of more and more consumers doing their shopping on-line.  But for those of us who still like the feel of merchandise, the aroma of great food, the search for a parking space, and being around crowds, you've come to the right place.

Thanks to Tracy for her usual fine job.....JIM....And congratulations to the ORIOLES......momentum, not superior talent won out.  See you at Spring Training.

Saturday, October 11, 2014



Tomorrow we celebrate COLUMBUS DAY.... a Federal mail bank openings..... BUT plenty of salesHALLOWEEN is a few weeks away so now is a good time to get that treat or costume....and be prepared....CHRISTMAS has already shown signs of early display......


There are several other events slated for this week, two with much anticipation and two recently announced events of local and national significance....Not in celebration of Columbus day, just a coincidence, one of my favorite casual restaurants is going FULL TIME............... MOZZARELLA FELLA, serving home made authentic Italian meals, will be open for dinner as well as lunch beginning Wednesday thru Saturday with extended hours until 9pm.

The menu you see when entering the restaurant will be available all day.  BUT daily lunch and dinner specials will be featured on their chalk board.  What a great place for before movie or after or carry out to eat dinner at home.  If eating in, they have a full wine and beer list.  Located 1688 Main Street, easy to find with lots of street parking.  For more information on menu as well as catering please click here.

NIK  WALLENDA'S next "made for television" walk is scheduled on Sunday, November 2 in Chicago across the Marina Tower buildings (left) along with the Leo Burnett Building...and all of this while the Chicago River lurks below.  AND he is planning on doing part of the walk blindfolded!!  It's scary to look out a window of those buildings let alone walk across them.

You can see Nick practice for his Chicago stunt this month at Nathan Benderson ParkIf the first day is any indication the crowds will be huge; especially with UTC opening Saturday.  His training schedule varies from evening to morning, but he is there every day but Tuesday.  I've seen him train at Benderson Park and it is quite an experience.  When finished, Nick and his entire family are available for autographs, book signings and tee shirt sales. He even poses for pictures; no purchase required.  For a schedule of practice times and to learn more about Nik click here

Ringling International Arts Festival 2014 begins Wednesday and runs through Saturday with more than 100 performer's from across the US Central and South America, the Middle East, Europe and Great Britain in a full roster of dance, jazz, comic puppetry, world music, a touch of circus, and even intergalactic space adventure.

With affordable priced performances at 2:00, 5:00, and 8:00 PM-presented in four theatres within walking distance proximity, you can park the car once (for free) and enjoy the entire day.  Lunch and dinner are available at Treviso or Banyan Cafe or at the always popular Jazz Sunsets on SARASOTA bay.  Tickets are still available for the opening night Gala featuring BOLERO SARASOTA with more than 50 area dancers in a celebratory tribute to our city.  All climaxing with a one of a kind fireworks display.

What else can possibly be happening this week?  What event has been years in the making; years in the planning; years in contention.......well of course UTC....The MALL at University Town Center.  If you don't have a ticket for the sneak peak on Thursday, forget it...the event has been sold out for weeks ...ALL.....YES ALL....proceeds will go to several worthy Sarasota/Manatee charities and venues... a great idea by theTaubman/Benderson team...We'll be there...of course, and give you a full report next week.   I for one cannot wait...I will definitely be at Cheesecake Factory before next week's blog and who knows where else.

We did get a special peak at MACY'S charity event Saturday.  WOW what a store. And DILLARD'S is a big improvement over Southgate location.   I can't wait to see the rest of them....

I have movies, books and television to reflect on, but you will have to wait a week.....

JIM'S RANT.....Everything I hear these days related to UTC is traffic, traffic, traffic....let's see how our state and local officials handle it before we pass judgement.  There have been recent bottlenecks lately due to street paving, landscaping and final construction.  There will be confusion at the onset as people find their way, but give those in charge the opportunity to fail before doing it for them....if it's bad I won't hold back...promise...

Thanks and welcome back Tracy....congratulations on 23 years of marriage today!!! Rodney is one lucky guy!
And a final congratulations to my favorite baseball team and SARASOTA'S winter residents....keeping fingers crossed for WORLD SERIES........down 2-0....does not look good...oh well only 5 months to spring training......JIM