Empty big-box shells where big-box chains once reigned supreme are pretty much the norm in today’s retail environment.
Sarasota and Bradenton, as we know, are no exception. The Winn-Dixie at U.S. 41 and Bahia Vista Street is still vacant, and the now-defunct Sports Authority stores at University Town Center, Pelican Plaza and on Cortez Road West still don’t have new tenants.
Normally, we’ve seen tenants like grocery stores, discount retailers or gyms move in to fill empty spaces, at least locally. The former Winn-Dixie at Clark and Swift roads in Sarasota is getting a Detwiler’s Farm Market and Big Lots and Planet Fitness recently opened at Town and Country Plaza.
But a Bradenton plaza that just changed hands a year and eight months ago is trying something a little bit different.
Oneco Center Holdings LLC, the owner of the former Winn-Dixie-anchored plaza at State Road 70 and 15th Street, is bringing an indoor farmers market to its 26,000-square-foot anchor space. Oneco Farmers Market, scheduled to open Aug. 18, will feature 117 booths with vendors like local restaurants, produce and dairy farmers, artisans, a cafe and a children’s play area.
Property manager Brian DeLutz said the market was at full capacity within two to three weeks of advertising. Vendors are required to have a representative at their booth seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in order to secure their spot. There’s a long waiting list, so come November, DeLutz said he expects to expand the farmers market to the plaza’s parking lot on the weekends.
DeLutz said Oneco Center Holdings was approached by supermarket chains, but ultimately decided to highlight small businesses.
“This market is not only an expression of the community’s ability, but also a place where the community will meet daily,” he said. “It will really be the center point of Oneco, and kind of a self-built community center just from people coming in and collaborating with one another.”
I wondered: if they were approached by major supermarket chains, why did they decide that a farmers market was the best use of the space?
“I think it was just sitting around and drinking coffee and the idea just came about. The more we talked about it, the more it just made sense,” DeLutz said. “We reached out to some of the local businesses and local people doing this at other places and asked them, ‘What do you want?’ We’re bringing everything we can to create a platform for them.”
Rent is $7 a day, or $210 a month for indoor tenants. The price structure for outdoor vendors is still being worked out, but DeLutz said he estimates it’ll be around $20-$25 a day, which includes a pop-up tent.
Stan Rutstein, a local commercial real estate broker, said that the new owners of the plaza have worked diligently to clean it up.
Oneco Center Holdings LLC purchased the property for $4.9 million in December 2017, Manatee County records show. The limited liability corporation is registered to Michael S. Bloom of BSD Capital LLC in Boca Raton, state records show.
“They painted it, fixed the parking lot, got rid of trash, riff raff and other things around there,” Rutstein said. “It’s on an excellent, excellent corner, and it gives them the opportunity to bring in more tenants. It’s a very, very positive move for how to reposition a struggling, non-anchored shopping center.”
DeLutz, who will also be managing the farmers market, said that his team looked for a mix of restaurants, farmers and artisans to bring in. There will be a kid’s zone inside the market with face painting and other activities, and a playground in a grassy area of the parking lot near Checkers.
DeLutz said that the other businesses in the plaza have already seen a boost from the farmers market. The Habitat for Humanity ReStore expects to be in the company’s top 10 stores by the end of 2019. The Subway in the plaza is now the No. 1 Subway out of the 19 in the area, DeLutz said.
Starting in October, the plaza will have free drive-in movie nights on the first Saturday of every month. The cafe will be located along the front windows — which are scheduled to become sliding windows within the next few weeks so people in and outside can be served. Eventually, some of the booths might be filled with employment service desks. They also plan to have monthly events dedicated to different organizations — like police officers, teachers, firefighters and county employees.
It’s all about the community, DeLutz said.
“We’re going to be the No. 1 center in the area or we’ll die trying,” he said.