The reinvention of Butler Plaza is well underway, with a new Lowe’s scheduled to be the first store to open in Butler North — the “power center” located west of the existing Butler Plaza — in December.
Multiple large stores are scheduled to open throughout 2016 and a new hotel with about 250 rooms will be added in 2017.
In the power center, stores that are new to the Gainesville market will include Dick’s Sporting Goods and the clothing store Marshalls. They will join a Walmart Supercenter and a new Sam’s Club.
Modernizing of the existing Butler Plaza along Archer Road also continues, including a new Outback Steakhouse opening and Kirkland’s, a specialty home decor retailer, moving into the former Barnes and Noble location.
What’s more, the current Regal Cinemas location will be remodeled and upgraded to a luxury movie complex with plush seating and food service.
Butler Enterprises President Deborah Butler is pleased to see the vision that she and her late father, Clark Butler, had begun pursuing prior to his death in 2008 become a reality.
“I’m so excited all this is happening,” Butler said. “This is such a large, complicated project that requires so much choreography to accomplish.”
Demand for outparcels in the power center is high.
“We have four restaurants confirmed for the outparcels, two of which are new to Gainesville,” said Robert Walpole, the president of CHW, the civil engineering and planning firm that is coordinating the Butler Plaza project. “We have more potential tenants than we have room for.”
The choreography will continue after Lowe’s and Walmart relocate — with the addition of a town center at the intersection of Southwest 34th Street and Archer Road.
Butler Town Center will feature attractive building designs with stores connected by sidewalks and ample room for events.
“We have a good retail mix now, but we are adding the excitement of new concepts that our customers currently leave our market to find,” Butler said. “We hope people will make extended shopping trips to the town center.”
Project Architect Everett Hatcher, president of CMH Architects, Inc. of Birmingham, Alabama, said that Butler has been a good client.
“She’s challenged us to help her do the best job she can do,” he said.
Butler traveled throughout the United States getting ideas for the town center, Hatcher noted.
She also worked with Robert Gibbs, principal of Gibbs Planning Group and the author of “Principles for Urban Retail Planning and Development.”
One of the concepts Butler picked up was that the buildings in the town center should have a diversity of architectural styles.
“They will all be different, just like a downtown,” Hatcher said.
The town center will have ample public space, including an area to hold events. “We’re planning a large fountain that will be unlike anything Gainesville has now,” Hatcher said. “The town center will be the gateway to the entire Butler Plaza.”
CHW, with Walpole at the lead, coordinates a large team. Each Wednesday, a group of up to 25 people, all representing various aspects of the construction, meets.
Supporting this group are about 60 professionals from design and construction disciplines.
On top of that are the construction workers.
“At the peak, when Walmart and Sam’s Club are under construction, there will be 350 to 400 construction workers,” Walpole said.
The development and construction team includes many local companies. In addition to CHW, Gainesville firms include landscape architects and site planners Buford Davis and Associates, site contractor O’Steen Brothers and landscape firm Florida Green Keepers. Hamlet Construction of Ocala is also involved.
The Butler Plaza expansion, which is doubling the size of the existing shopping center, is the latest step in the Gainesville location’s development, which began when a young Clark Butler opened a produce stand in Gainesville with his father and brother in 1939.
The produce stand grew into a 15,000-square-foot grocery store.
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 recalled.
With Butler Plaza and his other development projects, Clark Butler provided land and money for roads serving his projects.
Butler Enterprises is continuing the funding of infrastructure, and it has built the four-lane Clark Butler Boulevard, which connects to roads in the Southwest 20th Avenue area.
“People are finding the new connecting roads in the area, and traffic on them is picking up,” Walpole said.
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.
PROPOSED 62ND BOULEVARD EXTENSION
The final step in providing better traffic flow and relieve commuter traffic from I-75 would be what is known as the 62nd Boulevard Extension. This project is part of the long-range plan for Gainesville of the Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization, a body made up of city and county officials from throughout Alachua County.
In October, the MTPO made the project to its top its local roadway priority in the long-range plan, which could help attract state and federal funding.
This funding is justified because the project would ease traffic on Interstate 75 and addresses other needs on the state and federal highway system, Butler said. Other businesses and organizations advocating for prioritizing the project include UF Health, North Florida Regional Medical Center, the Fletcher Family of Companies and the Henderson Land Trust.
LARGE ECONOMIC IMPACT
Butler Enterprises plans to complete major portions of the expansion project within the next four years, Butler said. When completed, the expansion will total 1.2 million square feet, which is larger than the 1 million square feet in the existing mile-long Butler Plaza.
Orlando-based 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 and $96 million in annual wages.
The construction will add $389 million to the economy, the Fishkind report stated.