NOW IT'S MY TURN......
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 novel....as always thank you to Tracy for her editing and consultation....JIM