SEMINOLE — This city's "downtown," Seminole Mall, has a new owner — a multinational corporation that specializes in the purchase, development, redevelopment and management of shopping centers.
The company bought the 39-acre mall Wednesday for $14.6 million. That's about 59 percent less than the $35.7 million previous owner Downtown Seminole paid in December 2006.
"The sale of the Seminole Mall is the most exciting news the city has heard in years," Vice Mayor Leslie Waters said.
Representatives of the Seminole Chamber of Commerce were equally thrilled.
"It's a relief because people have been asking us constantly what is going on. Finally, we'll have an answer for them," said Gretchen Wells, chief of operations for the Seminole Chamber of Commerce. "Whee."
Officially, the title to the property belongs to Seminole Mall LP, a Delaware limited partnership that registered on Oct. 1 with the Florida Secretary of State. Seminole Mall LP is run out of the Palm Beach office of North American Development Group.
City Manager Frank Edmunds said representatives from NADG met with city staff a couple of months ago to explore Seminole's rules and development standards. "They didn't talk specifics" about any ideas for the property, Edmunds said.
Officials from NADG could not be reached for comment. But the company website, nadg.com, provides some history.
The company was founded in 1977 by John W.S. Preston. Most operations were in Canada, where the company's corporate headquarters are still located. The company moved into the United States in 1987 when it bought several shopping centers in Florida. NADG now has five offices spread across Canada and seven in the United States. Its main U.S. office is in Palm Beach.
NADG has bought 28 retail properties with more than 3.5 million square feet of space. Among its projects is the Mall of the Americas in Miami. As it exists today, Seminole Mall is a far cry from that project.
Built in the mid 1960s, the mall was once the center of activity in the city and came to be considered as Seminole's "downtown."
Until recently, Seminole Mall's 425,292 square feet were anchored by Kmart, Publix, Bealls, Stein Mart and Ross. Bealls, Ross and Stein Mart are still there, as are a CVS pharmacy and a standalone movie theater.
Smaller stores come and go. Publix moved across the street in 2009. Dollar Tree left a couple of years ago. An all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant caught fire and never reopened, although a sign above the door promises a new restaurant soon.
Last year, a holding company foreclosed on the mall property. The case is still in the courts.
Constant rumors have swirled about potential buyers. Those rumors became especially persistent the past couple of weeks.
Local developer Roger Broderick said at the time he had heard rumors that a serious buyer had surfaced.
"It's a great location. It's needed. Its time is now," Broderick said. "Whoever gets it, it's going to be a home run."
It's possible, he said, that a buyer could replicate the success of the Shoppes at Park Place in Pinellas Park. The hugely successful Shoppes replaced an outdated indoor mall that was breathing its last breath.
But until NADG submits plans to Seminole — something unlikely to happen soon, Edmunds said — the guessing game of what it will look like will go on.
"I think we're all going to have to sit and wait to find out who they are (and) what their plans are," chamber president Roger Edelman said. "It's kind of a new era, hopefully. . . . I think the thing that will be a question mark is: Are they going to put residential in?"