Tuesday, September 25, 2018
Business

The future of University Mall in Tampa is that it won’t be a mall anymore

TAMPA ó The University Mall isnít bustling on weekday afternoons. But itís not deserted, either.

A line eight-people deep waits at the BBQ counter in the food court. Children jump on inflatable trampolines in front of the Dillardís clearance store; shoppers browse racks at Burlington.

In the early 1970s, the Tampa mall was the place to be, but it hasnít been that way for decades. Nearly every major anchor store has left, leaving thousands of square feet of empty retail boxes ó the latest being Sears, which announced last month it would close by November.

That was good news for RD Management, the New York firm that bought the struggling mall near the University of South Floridaís main campus just under four years ago. The projectís chief development strategist, Chris Bowen, has had ideas percolating for the Sears space ó and none were for it to remain a retail chain.

"Malls are going away," he said. "What we are creating is the future."

The next anchors at the 100-acre property will be research institutes and dynamic office and co-working spaces, he said while sitting in a jewelry store he outfitted to be a sleek conference room inside the mall he plans to make a "research village."

For now, University Mall ó which the developers call Tampaís future Uptown district ó is stuck at an in-between phase.

Itís not derelict, but far from buzzing.

Previous coverage: University Mall buys out Sears, unveils new name for its makeover

Itís a relic, a fading suburban-style mall with real estate more valuable than the existing retail stores inside. RD is one of dozens of developers across America trying to give these spaces a second life.

Bowen and others hope a new federal tax break program that designates the mallís census tract an "opportunity zone" could be the spur needed to get the adaptive-reuse construction underway.

For now, much of Bowenís ideas are in planning phases. RD wonít break ground until an anchor has signed onto the project, he said.

In February, the firm said it would release a $1 billion development plan that has yet to go public, though Bowen has been open about his general plans.

"Weíre basically creating a city within an existing city," he said.

It was Bowenís entry as the project leader at the start of this year that marked RDís shift away from the retail-focused plan of new tenants, free-standing restaurants and lush landscaping that was announced after it bought most of the property in 2014 for $29.5 million.

Previous coverage: Tampaís University Mall to get major facelift, new anchors and restaurants

Now Bowen calls the mall a "laboratory" as RD figures out its own perfect formula.

The premise: some indoor corridors that connect the big boxes to the mall will be knocked down to create pedestrian-friendly streets and outdoor store fronts. The spine of the mall is likely to stay as an artery for the property, offering meeting space and indoor retail space like is there now.

Years down the line, Bowen envisions food halls, a dog park, apartments, high-rises and a lifestyle center that will turn its slice of Fowler Avenue ó long known to be a seedy area with a large transient population ó into a destination that feeds off of university life and research just down the street.

USF urban planning professor Elizabeth Strom has driven by University Mall on her way to work the last 13 years.

"Clearly for the past 10 or 15 years, it hasnít fulfilled its original function," she said. "We donít need to have a huge Dillardís right here, but we need other things."

Thatís not a unique problem.

A regional mall in Scottsdale, Ariz. ó Los Arcos ó was bulldozed in 2000. The razed property became "Skysong," an innovation center for Arizona State University. Today, it not only has research centers and campus incubators, but commercial leasing space and apartment complexes.

Newer projects have focused on what can be reused in old malls, rather than defaulting to tearing it all down.

"University Mall has a lot of good bones to it, good structure," said BDG architect Deighton Babis, who is working with RD on the Uptown project. "Tearing down and scarping doesnít make sense anymore when thereís so much of the mall that can be reused."

The JCPenney that shuttered in 2005 has already been gutted. The high ceilings could be ideal for a wet lab, which house chemicals and heavy equipment. The loop system used for the mallís electric power is already strong and reliable.

Bowen pitches it like this: A company eager to expand could be up and running in a new office sooner than if an office is built ground-up. Meanwhile, the mallís spine will continue to operate as normal.

Still, thereís no doubt the developers will need more investors to turn acres of old mall in a neighborhood thatís long struggled into a thriving new city district.

The U.S. Treasury and IRSí new "opportunity zones" program announced in April could be that missing piece ó but investors are still facing a lot of unknowns with exactly how it will work.

Florida census tracts, including the mall property and the proposed site for the Rays stadium in Ybor City, were added to the list of economically distressed communities in June.

The program is meant to spur investment by offering preferential tax treatment that allows investors to defer tax on prior gains until they are sold or exchanged.

Previous coverage: Charter school finds home in University Mall

Strom, the urban planning professor, said tax incentive programs have historically offered little evidence that they "move the needle," but can help facilitate development that would have happened anyway.

"Tax credits can get things moving," she said. "But theyíre not going to be the reason they work."

The new program could bode well for Uptown, she said, as would university buy-in from whoever takes over for departing USF president Judy Genshaft.

Jeff Green, a Phoenix-based retail real estate expert, saw the transformation that happened at the old mall in Scottsdale firsthand ó a development led by that cityís university.

He said in the latest wave of mall transformations, thereís no one template thatís going to work for every space. Itís not like the builds of the 1980s and í90s, where every regional mall had the same blueprint.

The International Plazas of the world ó modern, near city centers and with a focus on luxury brands ó are still doing well.

Itís the aging complexes built in, or toward the suburbs, that are having an identity crisis.

"There isnít a case study in this," said Babis, the architect. "Weíre in the early stages of redeveloping every mall in America."

Bowen said there are plans to officially remove the "University Mall" moniker in 2019, switching the development publicly to Uptown.

At that point it wonít really be a mall anymore, he said.

Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com. Follow @sara_dinatale.

   
Comments
Weight Watchers slims its name down to WW

Weight Watchers slims its name down to WW

Weight Watchers is its dropping its brand name in exchange for something slimmer: "WW." The company says the new logo - coupled with the tagline "Wellness that Works" -- puts an emphasis on overall health and well being, with less...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Study: Some Tampa Bay neighborhoods among quickest selling in the state

Study: Some Tampa Bay neighborhoods among quickest selling in the state

Tampa Bay sounds like a home sellerís dream market ó even compared to other locales statewide. According to a recent study by SmartAsset, four of the top 10 easiest places to sell a home in Florida are in the bay area. Northern Hillsborough County ac...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Lower demand brings slight dip in gas prices across state, Tampa Bay

Lower demand brings slight dip in gas prices across state, Tampa Bay

Just in time for fall, pump prices are finally declining. Gas prices in Florida averaged $2.72 per gallon Monday, down from $2.74 per gallon a week ago, according to AAA, The Auto Club Group. Tampa Bay prices were even lower at $2.63 per gallon, down...
Published: 09/24/18
SiriusXM to buy Pandora for $3.5 Billion in bid to expand reach

SiriusXM to buy Pandora for $3.5 Billion in bid to expand reach

Satellite radio provider Sirius XM said Monday that it would acquire music streaming service Pandora Media for $3.5 billion in a bid to corral listeners who do not want to pay for premium channels.Pandora rose to success by providing tailored radio s...
Published: 09/24/18
Jeff Vinik invests in gaming headset maker boosted by Fortniteís popularity

Jeff Vinik invests in gaming headset maker boosted by Fortniteís popularity

TAMPA ó As a mutual fund wonder-boy, hedge fund manager and real estate investor, Jeff Vinik has long displayed a sense for knowing when to put money into the next big thing, and his latest bet on e-sports may be no different.Vink recently bought nea...
Published: 09/24/18
Hernando Business Digest for Sept. 28

Hernando Business Digest for Sept. 28

BrieflyEMPLOYERS NEEDED FOR JOB FAIR: Pasco-Hernando State College, CareerSource Pasco Hernando, the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce and Hernando County Office of Economic Development are seeking employers to participate in the Open for A...
Published: 09/24/18
Solar farm land price is $6.8 million, including $4.4 million to state Sen. Wilton Simpson

Solar farm land price is $6.8 million, including $4.4 million to state Sen. Wilton Simpson

Tampa Electric Co. has said its Mountain View Solar project near Dade City represented a $75 million investment in alternative energy. The investing began in earnest last week when the utility paid more than $6.8 million for 382 acres in the rural co...
Published: 09/24/18
Dear Penny: I spent everything ending a bad relationship. Can I treat myself?

Dear Penny: I spent everything ending a bad relationship. Can I treat myself?

Dear Penny, I just made one of the hardest decisions of my life and ended the relationship I had been in since my early 20s. After a decade in a bad relationship, Iím super excited to be single again. The problem is my wardrobe. Over the past few yea...
Published: 09/24/18
Nearly half of cellphone calls will be scams by 2019, report says

Nearly half of cellphone calls will be scams by 2019, report says

Nearly half of all cellphone calls next year will come from scammers, according to First Orion, a company that provides phone carriers and their customers caller ID and call blocking technology.The Arkansas-based firm projects an explosion of incomin...
Published: 09/23/18
Walmart is teaming with a Seminole Heights chef to promote locally grown mushrooms

Walmart is teaming with a Seminole Heights chef to promote locally grown mushrooms

TAMPA ó It might seem like an unlikely match from the outside: A distinguished chef with a restaurant known for inventive plates using produce shoppers can find atÖ Walmart?Walmart, the countryís largest grocer, is known for having a core consumer wh...
Published: 09/21/18
Updated: 09/23/18