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Brandon still waiting on its shopping mall

They may not know much about billionaire Edward J. DeBartolo's money problems, but people who live or work in Brandon know they are tired of hearing promises about a mall that never seems to come.

DeBartolo and a joint venture partner are building the Brandon Town Center mall at State Road 60 and Interstate 75. DeBartolo's holdings include six other malls in the Tampa Bay area.

But recent news reports that the DeBartolo empire is considering selling assets and restructuring $4-billion in debt have left some people wondering about the fate of Brandon's best hope for a shopping mall.

"I'd do anything not to have to go to Tampa for a mall," said Debbie Austerman of nearby Valrico. "There's a lot of promises that have not been kept. They start, and then nothing."

Some work has taken place on the site for Brandon Town Center, which had been scheduled for completion in 1985. But it is still more dirt than concrete.

And there is even less progress on the horizon for the Lake Fair Mall, whose backers said it would be Florida's largest. Developer L.J. Hooker Corp. filed for bankruptcy in 1989, and no other developers are in sight.

Meanwhile, local shoppers tired of commuting to Tampa keep waiting and hoping.

Mychelle Cooper, a resident of Temple Terrace, works in Brandon and spends about half the week there with her parents. She agreed with Austerman.

"We need a mall here. This town is growing. When you fight traffic into Tampa so many times, you get tired," Cooper said. "We've waited and waited and waited for this mall.

"It's not so bad on the weekend," she added, "but during the week I'd like to run to the mall for lunch, and you can't."

Dennis Darnell, a 12-year resident of Brandon, has mixed feelings about the mall.

"These stores around here will be empty, and a lot of property owners will be hurt," he said. "There aren't enough people for the business around here."

But, he added, "I would rather have a mall than have to drive around here to all these darn stores. Driving causes all this congestion and traffic jams."

Carl Smith of Thonotosassa was one of the few shoppers interviewed Wednesday who opposes the mall.

"They've got so much around here as it is," he said, "and there's already a lot of traffic."

JMB Retail Properties, DeBartolo's joint venture partner in the mall, has said DeBartolo's financial situation will not affect the Brandon Town Center. Officials could not be reached for further comment Wednesday.

Local predictions are split.

"I don't think we'll get a mall, not before my kids have kids _ if we get one at all," Austerman said. "Let me see a parking lot built, and then I'll believe it."

Darnell, however, remains optimistic.

"I think they're going to finish that mall this time," he said. "They're going up fast with it now."