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Land swap advances Tampa mall’s redevelopment

A relocated Burlington Coat Factory and a new Sprouts Farmers Market add retail to former University Mall.
A rendering of plans for the RITHM@Uptown redevelopment of the former University Mall in Tampa.
A rendering of plans for the RITHM@Uptown redevelopment of the former University Mall in Tampa. [ Courtesy of RITHIM ]
Published Feb. 8, 2022

TAMPA — The former University Mall, now rebranded as RITHM@Uptown, nearly hit a sour note Tuesday.

RD Management, which is redeveloping the mall into a mixed-use urban neighborhood focusing on life sciences, technology, research institutes and other uses, said its project can’t reach its full potential unless it satisfies one of the mall’s anchors: Burlington Coat Factory.

The 110,000-square-foot store, now on the north side of the mall, will move to a smaller, standalone store facing East Fowler Avenue, allowing RD Management to use the existing store space as a key part of its planned redevelopment. That proposed swap comes because RD Management said it was unable to purchase the Burlington property over the past several years when it acquired the mall’s other anchors, parking deck and main mall building.

The store accounts for seven acres of the 83-acre project. Leaving Burlington where it is “creates a hole in the donut for this site which has to be filled,” said RD Management’s attorney, Elise Batsel.

“In order to fulfill this dream we need to move Burlington to the front. That movement is going to unleash tremendous economic development,” said Mark Sharpe, executive director of the Tampa Innovation Partnership that includes RITHM@Uptown.

RD Managment plans to put a 49,000-square-foot Burlington Coat Factory store, along with a 23,000-square-foot Sprouts Farmers Market, and 30,000 square feet of additional space for future tenants in a new structure facing East Fowler Avenue. But to do so, it asked the county for permission to rework its internal road network to accommodate Burlington’s parking and access requests. The changes called for wider travel lanes, reduced sidewalks and eliminating street-side parking, and included other alterations.

Sprouts Farmers Market will be part of a retail center facing East Fowler Avenue at the RITHM@Uptown redevelopment of the former University Mall. [TIMES (2017)]
Sprouts Farmers Market will be part of a retail center facing East Fowler Avenue at the RITHM@Uptown redevelopment of the former University Mall. [TIMES (2017)]

Commissioners eventually approved the request on a 4-3 vote, but not before raising concerns about pedestrian and bicycle safety and whether the roads would be restored to their original design, as the developer promised. Commissioners Mariella Smith, Pat Kemp and Gwen Myers dissented.

“I feel disappointed that this is looking like a strip mall in front of a sea of parking for the foreseeable future,” said Smith.

Both she and Kemp advocated for a delay in the vote to try to add a more definitive timeline on the future road improvements. Batsel, however, warned “this deal is so close to falling apart at this point.”

RD Management first announced the deal to move Burlington and add Sprouts Farmers Market in October 2021. The stores originally were scheduled to open late this year or in early 2023.

Adding Sprouts and relocating Burlington “is a great validation of the work that many people have done together over the past several years in building our Uptown story and legacy,” Christopher M. Bowen, chief development strategist at RD Management said in a statement released previously.