By: Chris Eversole
They’ve been studying “town center” shopping centers around the country—sites featuring at-tractive building designs with stores connected by sidewalks, fountains and ample room for events. Representa-tives of Butler Enterprises have also been talking with potential tenants and with government offi cials about how to make the project attractive to new stores while ensuring the best traffic flow and compliance with policies on drainage and other infrastructure.
As a result of this work, the company has revised its plans and is beginning a new round of city votes on the project. The Gainesville Plan Board will review the revised proposal Feb. 19. After the plan board conducts its review, the proposed changes will go to the city commission for a fi nal vote.
Under the best-case scenario, the project could receive fi nal approval by early summer, says city planner Scott Wright.
A major proposed change in the plans is to move the town center part of the project to near the inter- section of Archer Road and Southwest 34th Street. With the change, most new “big box” stores would be located on vacant land behind Butler Plaza.
The proposal would allow larger city blocks within the development than the city approved last year and would remove limitations of the size of blocks in the “big box” area. The new proposal would provide needed flexibility in final design of the project, notes Robert Walpole, who represents Butler Enterprises in dealing with the city.
“We’re streamlining the zoning to add needed flexibility to facilitate the final design,” says Walpole, who is the president of the engineering and survey-ing firm Causseaux, Hewett & Walpole.
Large Economic Impact
Butler Enterprises plans to complete major portions of the expansion project in four years from the start of construction, says President Deborah Butler. When completed, the expansion alone will total 1.2 million square feet, which is larger than the one million square feet in the existing mile-long Butler Plaza.
Orlando-based firm Fishkind and Associates prepared an economic analysis of the proposed Butler project. The study estimated that the direct and indirect impact of the project will be to add 3,300 jobs, with $96 million in annual wages.
The construction will add $389 million to the economy and employ an average of more than 500 construction workers each year, the Fishkind report states. At peak construction, the number of workers involved could total 1,500, says Paul Del Vecchio, a Boca Raton-based construction consultant.
The project could bring some major stores to town. “We have a good retail mix now, but we need to add the excitement of new concepts that our customers currently leave our market to find,” Butler says.
The existing Butler Plaza has been changing, and more changes are in the works. Butler Enterprises is constructing a new building that will accommodate four businesses along Archer Road on the site of the former Floor Trader’s building, Butler says. New businesses that have been added in the past year include Trader Joes, Mattress Firm, Tijuana Flats, Massage Envy and Chuy’s Mexican Restaurant.
Traffic and Design Concerns
City Commissioner Thomas Hawkins says that he favors fl exibility but that he opposes changing the requirements for block sizes. Limiting the size of blocks helps make a shopping center more pedestri-an-friendly, which reduces traffi c, Hawkins says.
“I want to avoid increasing gridlock on Archer Road and 34th Street,” he says.
Butler Enterprises is committed to building a major road section through the project. That section would be part of a planned extension of 62nd Boule-vard—the road running south of the Oaks Mall that now ends at Southwest 20th Avenue. The publicly funded section of the 62nd Boulevard Extension, which is seen as a way to reduce local traffi c on Interstate 75, is unfunded. Money for it is likely to be included in any future transportation sales tax proposals.
Butler Enterprises has also agreed to build a major Regional Transit System bus station with a park-and ride area in the shopping center expansion. The company is not asking to change the development principles to which it has agreed, Walpole says. “Butler Enterprises is not requesting any new entitlements, but rather a practical way to proceed to develop design plans for the project that was approved last year.”
Planner Wright is studying the latest proposal from Butler Enterprises to ensure that it adheres to the approved design standards the com-mission approved, he says.
“City policies promote urban design, such as having windows and an attractive design facing the street,” Wright says. “We want to strike a balance between an urban and a suburban feel.”
Adapting to the Times
Butler says she is excited about the project.
“We’re not only developing the town center, but we’re keeping the existing Butler Plaza fresh,” she says. “New stores are coming in, and we’re making the 1970s architecture more attractive.
“As we develop the town center, we want to create an environment that encourages you to be leisurely. We want to have beautiful fountains that encourage people to sit and relax, and have an area where you can have some outdoor entertainment.”
The project will complete a vision that she shared with her father, Clark Butler, who died in 2008, Deborah Butler says.
Clark Butler began developing Butler Plaza in 1976 on a swath of land that had been Stengel Field airport. At the time, little development existed on Archer Road, Deborah Butler recalls.
“Gainesville was very low on retail stores,” she says. “You had Oaks Mall, but you didn’t have discounters.
Shopping along Newberry Road was popular, she says. “There was a mindset that you should locate next to the mall. When I fi rst started leasing with Dad, that’s all I ever heard: “You’re not next to the mall.”
Now Deborah Butler is betting that her optimism about the new project will pay off, just as her belief in the original Butler Plaza did.
National Experts Involved In Butler Plaza Expansion
The team working on the Butler project include Robert Gibbs, principal of Gibbs Planning Group and the author of “Principles for Urban Retail Planning and Development.” Everett Hatcher, one of the founders of the architectural fi rm of CMH Architects, Inc., is also part of the team. Causseaux, Hewett & Walpole, the largest engineering and surveying fi rm in the Gainesville area, is doing the site planning. Kathy Ward-Darin, who has 20 years of experience leasing with national development fi rms, heads the leasing e° ort. Richard Kane, who helped lead construction of The Mall at Millenia in Orlando and the renovation and expansion of Waterside Shops in Naples, is also working on the project.