The importance of “middle market” companies to the U.S. economy is well understood. The Cheesecake Factory recently announced its plans to open a new location in North Central Florida-choosing among several growing middle markets clamoring for the popular restaurant’s commitment. However, the importance of “middle market” locations for shopping centers requires a detailed analysis of not only size, but also those factors that sustain a vibrant, contemporary retail development, including the market economy, location logistics, cultural and leisure opportunities, educational and healthcare facilities, among others.
Butler Town Center, the final piece in a 267-acre major Retail Development District, is located in the logistical middle of a thriving 12-county, 1.2 million-customer base that more than fulfills the criteria outlined above. “There’s nothing that can replace the deep understanding you have of a market by living, working and investing in that community,” says Developer, Deborah Butler, President of Butler Enterprises, and Gainesville native. “And perhaps nothing like growing up in the real estate and banking industries to identify the risks and rewards of a successful development like Butler Town Center,” she stated. Located on I-75’s busiest exit into Gainesville, Florida, just five minutes from the 55,000-student, University of Florida, the 450,000 square foot Butler Town Center fills a distinct market void. Unlike any other development in the region, Butler Town Center has been designed with great accessibility, urban walkability, new-to-market retail, two luxury apartment developments, a chef-curated Food Hall, and an entertainment and restaurant hub. Greater North Central Florida’s diverse economy is considered recession-proof. With its top-ranked UF-Shands Health System comprised of seven different hospital specialties and an entity payroll of $1.8 billion, national business distribution centers like Nordstrom and Walmart, and booming IT, medical research and biotech sector, Gainesville is the economic engine that drives this vibrant market. One whose growth at three times that national average lends to great success for new stores in the under-retailed region. “As store manager (formerly for Target) in Butler Plaza for eight years, I knew the type of volume to expect when I moved over to opened Butler North’s new Dick’s Sporting Goods in June, 2016, said Brian Jablonski. “Not only did we exceed our sales projections in the first week, but we continued growing, often exceeding budgets by triple digits, ending that first year with overall sales 10 times over plan. After the first two years, the Gainesville location was second highest volume store in a region that includes Orlando and Jacksonville markets.” The energy and diversity that comes with 75,000 college students—Santa Fe College, ranked #1 in Florida among small colleges and the University of Florida ranked as the #8 public university in the nation by U.S New and World Report—provides an enormous boost to the economy, not really accounted for in the U.S. Census. “This location is unique to the P.F. Chang’s model as we aren’t in a lot of college towns,” said Angel Maldonado, P.F. CHANG’S Operating Partner. “The regular events like graduations, and the proximity to I-75 makes it a draw from all over the area. We regularly serve customers who drove 45 minutes to an hour which led us to exceed our post opening sales projections by 166 percent.”
Coupling the student impact on the sales at Butler Plaza, Butler North, and the new Butler Town Center with the nearly 2-hours drive to any other major shopping areas seals the development’s regional retail dominance. “The nearest next Total Wine being almost two hours away plays a huge role in our success as a regional destination” says Christopher Mann General Manger, Total Wine-Butler North.
Proving once again that the Greater Gainesville market somehow is more than the sum of its parts, 2,000 customers stood in line to open the doors, when Whole Foods opened in Butler Town Center. Whole Foods Store Team Leader Mario Torres said of the opening, “We had an incredible turnout in Gainesville—a precursor to the great response we continue to see from this community. The store is not only a grocery shopping destination, but a neighborhood gathering space.” Greater Gainesville’s assets are unmatched. Low operating costs, the state’s youngest and most educated population, and national connectivity have supported Greater Gainesville’s transformation into a global hub of talent, innovation and opportunity. “Creating the right place at the right time is part of watching a market grow and fully understanding the direction and quality of that growth,” states Deborah Butler. “Sometimes you just have to wait until the time is ripe to fulfill the plans and dreams you have developed for years,” she concluded.
As Seen in Chain Store Age Magazine