Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Business

Sundial strives for top tenant mix in a tough retail environment

The soon-to-open Sundial in downtown St. Petersburg has an interesting mix of tenants. Some are pretty notable, like Lululemon, the wildly popular yoga apparel store, and Locale Market by famous chef and restaurateur Michael Mina.

Others leave you wondering, "Is this the best they could come up with?''

In the big scheme of retail, probably, yes.

Even with the uptick in the economy, retailers are still cautious about expanding. The rise in online shopping has prompted many stores to close weak locations or shrink their square footage. Just because a retail center wants a Z Gallerie home decor store doesn't mean it's going to get one.

The retail outlook, while better than it has been, isn't all that rosy. Mall traffic is down double digits since 2000, and only one enclosed mall is scheduled to open in the United States this year.

Unfortunately for Sundial, it's in Sarasota, just a short drive away.

Since Bill Edwards bought the struggling center in 2011 for a bargain $5.2 million, expectations have been high. Maybe too high. Despite the hype and estimated $30 million in renovations, Sundial is still unproven and unknown to most national retailers. No one wants a repeat of its former life as BayWalk, or even a slight improvement.

Early on, Edwards hired New York retail diva Faith Hope Consolo to attract the best. Excitement swirled about an Apple store, J.Crew and Eataly, an Italian food mecca with locations in New York and Chicago. It seemed like everyone wanted a spot.

In the end, those names never materialized and Consolo was out. The Apple store landed at Sarasota's Mall at University Town Center opening in October, along with Saks Fifth Avenue, Crate & Barrel and a bunch of smaller stores Sundial probably would have liked.

What Sundial got was a decent mix of 18 stores and restaurants, many, but not all of them, new to the Tampa Bay region. For eats, there's Ruth's Chris Steak House, Sea Salt and FarmTable Kitchen. For shopping, there's a bunch of clothing, home accessories and shoe stores, including three that used to be at BayWalk: Chico's, White House/Black Market, and Happy Feet. Some of the newbies are Florida Jean Co., L.O.L. Kids, Juxtapose and Jackie Z Style Co. The Shave Cave and Marilyn Monroe Glamour Room fill the beauty niche.

Aside from some of the restaurants, the lineup hasn't exactly wowed.

Tommy Bahama, Juxtapose and Lululemon all have stores in Tampa's Hyde Park Village, another outdoor shopping center hardly going like gangbusters. Chico's, White House/Black Market and Happy Feet have locations all over the place, and some of the other boutiques aren't familiar enough to locals to be must-gos.

Brian Bern, senior director at Franklin Street real estate in Tampa, may have summed it up best: ''I don't dislike it.''

Bern, whose firm handled the lease for Jackie Z Style Co., a Sarasota clothing boutique, says Sundial missed an opportunity by not including a fast-casual restaurant, like Chipotle or Panera Bread, where shoppers can grab a quick bite. Most of the restaurants are high-end, sitdown places with white tablecloths.

Does Tampa Bay really need another Ruth's Chris?

"I think it will be great, but it probably needs some tinkering,'' Bern said. "It's got a much greater chance of success than BayWalk ever did.''

Ultimately, this could be just Round One. Based on what happens at other retail centers, it's possible some of Sundial's initial tenants will flop, creating room for other stores better suited for the space. Some of those "dream" shops on the fence could jump in, strengthening the center long term.

For now, though, the lineup is set and customers will show their satisfaction at the cash register. Chris DiNeno, founder of the EnterDine Group located near Sundial, which consults on buying and selling restaurants, said he's neither excited nor disappointed by the tenant mix. But he is optimistic about the center's success overall.

Will it attract shoppers from the beaches or elsewhere in the region like Tampa's International Plaza? He's not so sure, but he knows it will get locals and urban dwellers moving into the new downtown apartments.

He, for one, plans to start wearing more Tommy Bahama and subbing Locale Market for his daily Starbucks. Ruth's Chris and FarmTable will become his new haunts.

Time will tell if other people do the same.

Contact Susan Thurston at [email protected] or (813) 225-3110. Follow @susan_thurston.

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