Butler Plaza expansion in the works


Published: Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 31, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Plans for an expansion that would nearly double the size of Butler Plaza could be ready for review by state and local regulators this spring.

Clark Butler said Wednesday he is putting together an application to build a "development of regional impact" — or DRI — on the 145 acres north of the Archer Road shopping center that could contain more than 1.2 million square feet of retail space, as well as offices, hotel rooms and possibly medical facilities.

Butler also said Wednesday that his company would be developing the property alone after failing to reach an agreement with a Tampa-based firm that had negotiated to buy the property last year.

"It will be done with great quality and beautiful architecture and modern planning," Butler said.

"With the economy improved greatly over what it was when I started out, we'll be able to build even a better-looking project than our Butler Plaza and I think our Butler Plaza has been well-accepted," he said.

The expansion, which would bring the total size of Butler Plaza to more than 260 acres, is not meant as competition to the SpringHills project, which would bring 1.56 million square feet of retail and about 2,200 residences to NW 39th Avenue, Butler said.

And though some planners have said SpringHills could encompass nearly all the retail capacity in Alachua County until 2020, Butler said the two projects would complement each other and draw from a market that extends beyond the county line.

"They've got a good project, they're good people," Butler said. "We're not competing against them, and I don't think they're competing against us."

"The people are there," he said. "So we would be serving south Gainesville and they would be serving north Gainesville.

While Butler has discussed plans for the property — formerly a mobile home park — in the past, his company has never filed the paperwork necessary to begin the DRI application process. The spur to begin the process came late last year, when local, state and federal officials agreed on a plan to four-lane SW 43rd Street, which runs along the expansion's western boundary, Butler said.

Butler originally sought support from the county to four-lane SW 24th Avenue — now a limerock road — and has said a roadway with that kind of capacity was necessary for the shopping center he envisioned.

"We've been planning this for years," Butler said. "When we finally got the commitment for 43rd and money appropriated — now's the time we feel we can move ahead."

Scott Koons, executive director of the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council, said Bob Reller, Butler Enterprises' development director, asked for DRI application forms a few weeks ago, but said his agency has not yet received an application. Koons said he could not comment on the project before seeing an application.

Reller said Butler has hired a firm from Ocala to prepare the DRI application, which could be completed in two to three months.

Part of the DRI review process, which includes examining the impacts the development could have on areas such as transportation, the environment and traffic, would be a study of the economic impact of the project.

Butler's plan could face difficulties if it comes after the latest, expanded plans for SpringHills are approved, one county official said.

"The market study that was submitted by the SpringHills folks shows they're pretty much pushing the limit of what the county could support," Alachua County Principal Planner Steve Lachnicht said. "That would make it much more difficult — I wouldn't say impossible — for the next 1-million-square-foot applicant to come through the door."

But, Lachnicht said, "It's difficult to predict the timing or even the outcome of SpringHills right now."

Butler said his project, which he expects to draw from a "10 to 12 county area," would be compatible with SpringHills, and he and Reller stressed that there was no competition between the two developments.

"To limit one's horizon to one county's borders is a mistake," Reller said.

Patrice Boyes, an attorney for SpringHills, said she could not comment on Butler's proposal until an application had been filed.

In saying Wednesday that he planned to go ahead without a partner, Butler offered the first public acknowledgement that a $300 million deal to buy Butler Plaza, Windmeadows Apartments and Lakeshore Towers, on SW 13th Street, did not go through.

Florida Southeast President Kenneth Mamula said Wednesday he and Butler "agreed to disagree" on the terms of the sale. Both parties said they were still on amicable terms.

"We negotiated but we couldn't get together on the terms and the financing," Butler said.

Though the sale of the package of properties did not go through, Florida Southeast did purchase Windmeadows, located north of Butler Plaza, and converted the apartments into condominiums last year.

Several firms have expressed interest in partnering on the project but so far "we haven't made a deal with anybody," Butler said.

"I don't have to have somebody come in with me, but in the free enterprise system someone might talk me into it," he said.

Jeff Adelson can be reached at 352-374-5095 or adelsoj@gvillesun.com

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