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Web site ad touts redevelopment plan for Seminole Mall

SEMINOLE — Rumors about the fate of Seminole Mall have swirled for years, but now it appears big changes are in the works.

Nobody's talking, but the main evidence is an ad that appeared on the commercial real estate site loopnet.com in December. The ad, titled "Seminole Mall Redevelopment Project," seeks a $5.5 million investment to convert "what is currently a 440,000 square-foot center to a 760,000 square-foot power center."

The ad suggested that "big box retailers such as Costco are expected to be tenants as well as an 18-screen movie theatre."

It's unclear if an investor was found. The ad notes that the mall is now "off market."

The mall's manager, James Gibbs of Aegis Partners LLC in Largo, did not return an e-mail and a phone message this week asking for information. A Costco representative also did not return a phone message.

The news that the mall had been listed and was touting a future 18-screen movie theater surprised Bimal Dattani, one of the owners of Touchstar Cinemas, which runs the eight-screen mall multiplex.

"News to me," Dattani said. "They haven't told me anything about it."

Dattani said Touchstar would like to expand the multiplex but has no plans to do so in the near future and doesn't expect to open an 18-screen theater there.

Seminole city officials were also out of the loop.

"I have no clue on that," said Mark Ely, Seminole's development and zoning director. "The city has not been approached with a development plan. … We've been in the dark just like everyone else."

The ongoing rumors about the mall became especially persistent starting in December 2006 when Downtown Seminole LLC bought the approximately 36 acres for $35.7 million. Since then, the mall — which has an assessed value of $22.5 million, according to the Pinellas County property appraiser — has closed a gas station that took up the southwest corner of the property and the Publix has closed and moved across the street.

City officials, in particular, look forward to big changes at the place they see as Seminole's downtown.

"We would certainly love for something to be done with it. That is our No. 1 item of discussion," Seminole Mayor Jimmy Johnson said. "It is an eyesore. It's a big, old white elephant."

White elephant it might be, but it's also the only game in town when it comes to a retail center. Johnson said there are few places for residents to shop. The mall, he said, would be ripe for a destination store, such as Dillards, and specialty shops, such as Baby Gap.

The mayor was thrilled at the idea that a Costco might move in. The location, 11201 Park Blvd., would be perfect, he said. It would also be the only Costco in southern Pinellas. The closest is in Clearwater.

Johnson, who is also executive director of the Seminole Chamber of Commerce, said he did not know of the LoopNet ad. But he said he has heard rumors that the mall will be razed and an outside mall, like the Shoppes at Park Place or Largo Mall, will be built.

That makes sense, he said, because it's simply too expensive to build an enclosed mall and to keep it running considering the costs of air conditioning and other maintenance issues.

Reach Anne Lindberg at alindberg@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450.