Saturday, June 23, 2018
Business

Kmart closure latest sign of Seminole Mall troubles

SEMINOLE — After 20 years, the Kmart at Seminole Mall will close its doors for the final time this fall.

Sears Holdings Corp., owner of the Kmart and Sears chains, announced in December it would shutter as many as 120 underperforming stores. At the time, it released a partial list of 80 stores across the United States that it would close. Last week, it added eight to the list, including the Seminole store.

"We're not renewing our lease at that location," said Kim Freely, the corporation's spokeswoman.

Clearance sales are scheduled to begin Aug. 2, she said, with the closing at the end of September.

"I was surprised to hear of the closing," said Leslie Waters, Seminole's vice mayor. "Many citizens of our city value the fine people and management of Kmart, and will miss this great corporate presence."

Gretchen Wells, chief of operations for the Seminole Chamber of Commerce, said the closing is sad for the city and the store's 92 employees.

"We do want to express compassion to anyone who is out of a job as a result of Seminole Kmart's closing in September, and wish the employees well," Wells said. "Hopefully, they can be transferred to other stores or become part of a new venture at Seminole Mall, whatever that may be."

Freely said the employees will be notified of openings at other stores — there's still a Kmart in Kenneth City and a Sears at Tyrone Mall.

But other jobs are not guaranteed, and they'll have to apply for them, she said. In North Pinellas, there are two other Kmarts, one on Missouri Avenue in Largo and another at U.S. 19 N and State Road 580 N in Clearwater.

It's unclear how much revenue the city will lose as a result of the closure. The city receives about $4,100 a year from Kmart in fees for its occupational license. Seminole also gets money from franchise fees on electricity and other utilities, but how much is uncertain, said Mark Ely, the city's head of development. The fees come from the utilities themselves and are not broken down by customer.

The mall's manager, James Gibbs of Aegis Partners LLC in Largo, could not be reached for comment.

The loss of Kmart is the latest bad news for a mall that seems to be dying a slow death.

Seminole Mall Acquisitions bought the approximately 39.3 acres in March 2002 for $20.7 million. Four years later, Downtown Seminole, a Delaware corporation, bought it for $35.7 million.

At that time, the Pinellas County Property Appraiser assessed the value at about $21.2 million. That climbed to $26.2 million in 2008. The assessed value is now $14.3 million.

The mall, at the northeast corner of Park Boulevard and 113th Street N, was built in the mid 1960s around the time two other indoor malls were built — Sunshine in Clearwater and Gateway in St. Petersburg. Tyrone in St. Petersburg, Pinellas Square (now the Shoppes at Park Place) in Pinellas Park, and Largo malls came in the 1970s and 1980s.

Of those built in the 1960s, only Seminole remains. Sunshine was razed and is now an apartment complex. Gateway was also razed and redesigned into an outdoor style mall with parking near store entrances.

Seminole Mall, on the other hand, was always considered the city's "downtown" or retail hub. It's also the focus of hopes for redevelopment in the city. How that redevelopment might look is a guessing game.

Until recently, Seminole Mall's 425,292 square feet were anchored by Kmart, Publix, Bealls, Stein Mart and Ross.

The Bealls and Ross stores are still there, and Stein Mart has renewed its lease, Wells said. A CVS pharmacy remains in the mall, as well as a standalone movie theater at the north end of the property.

But there are few other bright spots.

Smaller stores come and go. Publix moved across the street in 2009 to a refurbished Albertsons. Dollar Tree left in late 2010 or early 2011. An all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant caught fire and never reopened. Last July, a holding company foreclosed on the mall property. The case is still in the courts.

The Kmart has always figured large in speculation about redevelopment. The store, covering about 2.5 acres, was seen as a possible stumbling block because any construction would have to take place around it. That obstacle will no longer exist.

"If there's any silver lining in this, it might be redevelopment potential," said Ely, the city development official.

Wells, the chamber official, agreed. "Changes are inevitable and changes can be positive and this could open up the door to opportunities," she said. "Now you have some opportunities that weren't in existence before."

Anne Lindberg can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8450.

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