Ben Carter Properties and Area Development

August 23, 2011 32 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

The Atlanta-based company's development plans for two major shopping plazas have yet to be seen. The Markets at Town Center as an entertainment center? Ponte Vedra's Sawgrass Village to be torn down? We know they can talk, but when will they walk? Metro Jacksonville finds out.

What's The Deal?

The Markets at Town Center

The company announced in December 2009 a large entertainment center would be soon to come at The Markets, featuring up to a dozen restaurants and clubs. However, as of July 2011, there are only four: Suite, Whisky River, Libretto's - and stand-alone BlackFinn Grille. There were also supposed to be multi-family apartments and condos in the upwards of some 450 units.

Sawgrass Village

Ben Carter Properties just purchased this shopping center in Ponte Vedra off A1A and recently announced plans for redeveloping it. And redeveloping is an understatement.

The Article That Broke News:

PONTE VEDRA BEACH - Representatives from Ben Carter Properties, the Atlanta-based property managers of Sawgrass Village, outlined plans for the first phase of the shopping center's redevelopment Monday at the Ponte Vedra Beach Coalition meeting.

Using artist renderings, President Steven Cadranel showed what the new Publix and CVS pharmacy would look like based on a small adjustment plan recently approved by the St. Johns County commissioners.

During his presentation, Cadranel also appealed to Ponte Vedra Beach residents to soften their definition of flags and banners, which his company would like to incorporate in its redesign plans. The community's unified sign ordinance approved by the Architectural Review Committee "is very challenging and restrictive," and in restraining colors and use of flags and banners "restrains Ponte Vedra's charm," he said. They have requested 16 waivers, which need to be approved by the commission.

The plan is to demolish the present stores and replace them using the same square footage, "foot for foot," Cadranel said. Once that is accomplished, they plan to deal with the rest of the center as a major modification project, he said.

To revive what was once the commercial heart of Ponte Vedra Beach, the ailing center needs an overhaul. Many of its stores are closed. The shopping center's previous owner, Bailard Sawgrass LLC, presented plans for a redesign three years ago, but those plans were dropped amid criticisms that they would have caused crowding with added commercial, office and residential space.
Cadranel said his company, hired by present owner Massachusetts Mutual, studied their predecessors' mistakes to see where they went wrong.

Cadranel said Sawgrass Village is "dysfunctional" and "disjointed" because it functions like three separate shopping centers instead of one unified pedestrian friendly destination.

He showed artist renderings of the types of banners and flags his company has in mind.

"The sign ordinance restricts flags and banners but this is a very different interpretation" of what those are, he said. Flags are flag-shaped signs on a pole, which he called "way finding signage." Banners are small seasonal banners that he said would "add charm and pedestrian scale."

Cadranel also said they want to put up a 150-square-foot sign on the front of the new Publix store, smaller than the current one, which is 200 square feet. But the current ordinance only allows for 24 square feet, smaller than would accommodate the ‘P' in Publix, he said. The present store is about 40,000 square feet and the new one will be 49,000 square feet.

He also showed an image of the new entrance sign they want to place in front of the center facing Florida A1A. The current entrance sign is 17 feet wide and 30 foot tall, and the new one would be 14 feet wide and 25 feet tall.

Plans call for construction to begin in the first quarter of next year, with Publix reopening by Thanksgiving.

During Cadranel's presentation, several Ponte Vedra Beach residents, including Architectural Review Committee member Marcy Silkebaken, introduced the idea of incorporating a Sawgrass Village Common into the redevelopment plans. A community common would turn the center into a gathering place for the community and the site of special events.

But Cadranel said that is "not viable" because there is not enough space, although his company is adding to and enhancing landscaping.

The Scoop

Metro Jacksonville's interview with a Ben Carter Properties' spokesperson on the current status of the developments.

MJ: There were plans for an "entertainment center" of 12 parcels or so - what happened? Will there still be one?

BCP: We do have plans and have sold some lots so we do expect five or six more businesses to open up in the next year or so. We've leased about four right now. The leases aren't quite done yet, so I can't say which but you will see new dining and retail. The really big open shop space (next to Ulta), we're looking to lease up next. It was never really meant to be an entertainment center to say, just a shopping/retail center. BarMan (Bar Management Group) in Charlotte came to us with the idea of bringing in Suite, Whisky River, BlackFinn, and Libretto's, like their concept at EpiCentre. With the open shop space, most are outparcels.

The "open shop space" being referred to. Ulta beauty store sits just to the right of this space on the corner.

Several parcels are for lease.

MJ: What about plans for a residential area in the center?

BCP: Yeah, you know we tried, but it's fallen through. The plan was to build multi-family condominiums and apartments, and maybe a hotel, to the land area next to West Marine (left if facing the strip front). But with the way the market is right now, I don't think so.

MJ: With the new Shell station going in right off Gate Parkway, there's a lot of mind to its effect on the already congested traffic in the area. Do you plan on expanding lanes on that road or addressing the issue in some way?

BCP: Yes, we want to see Gate Parkway expanded. But we're not in charge of that. We've given the city millions to do so, and to address that problem in that area, so it's up to them to do so and see through to it.

The location where the new Shell will be in the forefront. You can see congested traffic directly to the right on Gate Pkwy.

MJ: Now with Sawgrass Village, what are the plans? To tear the entire thing down?

BCP: Yes, just as you say it. It will be coming down in phases. Phase I will be the Publix and CVS and will be completed around the end of next year. Then Phase II will be a year or two after that. It'll be the mixed-use space, the retail, dining, maybe some offices. We're still working to get approvals now, so we can begin on Phase I. There's tough jurisdiction out there. But things are looking good.

MJ: And a simple question - why?

BCP: Well we want a newer, fresher space. It's an older center and you're spending more to maintain the spaces than they are worth. You're paying rent on an older space when you can go up the road and pay on a newer, cheaper space. So we're keeping up with the times with a nicer look - plus it's in a key location. With the second phase, you can expect to see the existing tenants, with an additional three or four more.

MJ: What about the businesses? What is their say in this? Have you thought how they'll be affected?

BCP: Well that's why we're doing it in stages, due to the existing tenants there now. We want to pay mind to them, make sure they keep in business of course. Publix, CVS, and some others were interested in the idea and looking to do so.

MJ: Can we expect any other new development to come from your company?

BCP: No, that's about it. These are our two projects. There was talks of another development a few years ago, but again, everyone got hit by the market, so no other plans now.

The St. Johns Town Center (BCP is half owner) will also see additions soon:

The St. Johns Town Center will gain six new retailers this fall, and four of them are new to Northeast Florida. Those new to the area are the organic beauty and skin care product retailer L’Occitane; men’s skin care retailer The Art of Shaving; cupcake and frozen yogurt store Sweet! By Good Golly Miss Holly; and olive oil and vinegar specialty store The Olive Oil Store. An Oakley store and a Michael Kors store will also open this fall at the town center, Simon Property Group Inc. said in a news release.

French Fry Heaven, an original fast-food concept developed by Jacksonville resident Scott Nelowet, is opening its first outlet at the St. Johns Town Center. The snack stop will open near Coach and Betsey Johnson in the town center on Labor Day, Sept. 5.
French Fry Heaven’s menu includes regular fries with condiments that range from the traditional, such as ketchup, malt vinegar and barbecue sauce, to more unique flavors such as mayo and chili powder, Thai peanut sauce and coconut curry sauce. A variety of condiments also go with the sweet potato fries, such as Nutella, cinnamon and brown sugar and marshmallow and pumpkin./quote]


Sawgrass Village

Some are saying potential redevelopment of Sawgrass Village is "completely out of character with the community."  However, very few will doubt that the center as currently designed, is outdated and in need of a fresh makeover.  If the community and Ben Carter Properties can work together, a redeveloped Sawgrass Village has the potential to become a major bright spot of activity on a State Road A1A corridor, who's commercial character is typical suburban sprawl more than anything else.

The Markets at Town Center

Although it was reported by local media sources that an entertainment complex would be developed at the Markets at Town Center, a complex in the form of the Jacksonville Landing was never a part of the plans.  The nightlife/entertainment component was a plan that simply called for clustering these types of uses in existing retail storefronts and outparcels on the east side of the shopping center.

A concept to improve Gateway Parkway between Town Center Parkway and Butler Boulevard.

In addition, if you've been to the area, you've come down with the massive headache of circling parking lots for spots and moving one inch at a time. With the addition of the Shell station facing Gate Parkway, many believe this can only add to the terrible traffic problem encircling the entire megaplex.  In the past, City of Jacksonville plans called for the extension of Town Center Parkway to Skinner Lake Drive and the elimination of the Skinner Lake Drive intersection/signal with Gate Parkway.  This modification would make it easier for drivers to merge lanes between Butler Boulevard and Town Center Parkway.  However, as of February 2011, the property needed to make this happen is still owned by the Christopher Forrest Skinner Trust.

Article by Sarah Gojekian and Ennis Davis.