Butler Plaza North has been under construction for more than two years now.
The 750,000-square-foot expansion has slowly been welcoming 40-plus businesses, including several that have already opened and three restaurants that made their debut on Monday.
Longhorn Steakhouse had its grand opening, as did Culver’s, a chain known for their ButterBurgers and custards. Olive Garden opened, too, but this was following a relocation.
“The expansion into this area and the growth in this area off of Archer [Road] was a great opportunity for us to come into this area,” said Kenneth Kimmey, a Longhorn Steakhouse managing partner.
The next business to move into Butler Plaza North will be the Caribbean restaurant Bahama Breeze, which is set to open next summer.
The expansion has created about 1,500 temporary construction jobs and will eventually total 1,500 retail and restaurant jobs, said Jerry Jones, Butler Enterprises’ vice president of operations.
Gainesville developer Clark Butler and his daughter, Deborah, “had the option of retailers coming into town and started working on this project roughly 18 years ago,” Jones said.
Analysts say the expansion benefits the companies as well as Gainesville’s economy as a whole.
“Having all these amenities will make people come here, so at the end, this is good for the expansion of the city and the development of the city in general,” said Hector Sandoval, director of the economic analysis program at the Bureau of Economic and Business Research.
Jones expects the expansion to keep businesses and customers from going beyond Gainesville.
“We want to keep customers in the market, have them shop here, so by adding [other Butler Plaza North expansion businesses] like the Marshalls and DICK’s, the Total Wine — people love to shop at these,” Jones said. “People were going to Ocala to shop, so we’re wanting to keep the customers and have an option for them to stay in Gainesville.”