Talk about a confidence booster.
Tampa's Hyde Park Village sold for $45 million last week, a booyah statement that the shopping center isn't done yet.
Boston-based WS Development was the highest of multiple bidders eager to restore the site to its better days. They liked its history, uniqueness and position in the retail market.
In short, they wanted it bad.
The price impressed real estate experts and sent a series of fist-bumps among village tenants.
"No one is going to spend that kind of money and not do something," said Victoria Bowa, owner of Navy, a shoe and accessories boutique that opened in August. "It's a good sign that they have enough faith."
Bowa had no idea the owners were putting the open-air village up for sale until after she signed her three-year lease. Now, she's even more optimistic about her prospects there.
Navy joins a mini wave of new shops in the back loop behind the Wine Exchange. Nearly the entire south building is still vacant, but the rest of the 266,000-square-foot center is largely occupied. Tampa Bay's first West Elm home decor store entered the mix a few weeks ago, the village's biggest coup since athletic apparel store Lululemon last year.
Danielle Marie McFarland didn't want anyplace but Hyde Park Village when she opened her clothing and style-consulting store, Don Me Now, in March. She liked the camaraderie of business owners and all the village-hosted events, from the fall festival to the art shows.
McFarland hopes the new owners bring in more businesses, especially restaurants, to boost the foot traffic. Her reaction to the fat sales price was excitement followed by: "They aren't playing around."
It's encouraging to see big retail space in demand. Some jaws dropped when poor Channelside Bay Plaza in downtown Tampa recently sold for just $5.75 million. Or remember BayWalk in St. Pete? It went for $5.2 million in 2011.
Granted, it's impossible to compare one shopping center against another because each has its own story and set of pros and cons. But when the chatter around town is, "We should have pooled our money and bought Channelside," you know someone got it for cheap.
I'm not hearing that with Hyde Park Village.
The last time the center changed hands was in 2005, when Vornado Realty Trust bought it for $31 million and was planning a $100 million overhaul involving two new condo towers. Before that, it sold for $47 million in 1998.
Michael Milano, managing director for the real estate firm Colliers International Tampa Bay, said the latest sale price shows the market has improved and interest in prime real estate is high. Not knowing all the details, it's tough to say if $45 million was a reasonable price, he said. But the cost of replacing the buildings and parking garages, a typical criteria for setting a price, would have been much higher.
I'd say location remains the village's top asset — and drawback. Located in the heart of Tampa's historic Hyde Park, it draws from affluent, densely populated South Tampa. But try giving someone directions there from downtown? You don't just stumble across it.
Steven Ashworth, owner of Ashworth Artisan Chocolate, has worked in the village for 20 years and seen its share of ups and downs. Back in the '90s, it was so busy, you had to dodge people walking down the sidewalk. The former Cactus Club was often standing room only.
Ashworth says the key to revitalizing the village is adding restaurants with outdoor seating to create more of a destination. Sure, people like to shop at Pottery Barn and Anthropologie, but they don't go every week.
And don't forget the 20-something shoppers, he says. Many of the existing stores are too pricey for them.
Ashworth tweaked his concept in July to add local artwork and has already seen an uptick in business. He sold 13 paintings the first two months and had double the normal sales in the three days after West Elm opened. He feels good about the new owners and upcoming holiday season.
Time will tell if the village was worth every penny.
Susan Thurston can be reached at email@example.com, (813) 225-3110 or @susan_thurston on Twitter.