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Tampa's University Mall to get major facelift, new anchors and restaurants

University Mall near the University of South Florida will get three new anchor tenants and two new free-standing restaurants as part of a renovation that could start early next year.
University Mall near the University of South Florida will get three new anchor tenants and two new free-standing restaurants as part of a renovation that could start early next year.
Published Jun. 23, 2015

One of Tampa Bay's oldest — and dreariest — malls is getting a major facelift.

University Mall near the University of South Florida will get three new anchor tenants and two new free-standing restaurants as part of a renovation that could start early next year, the commercial real estate and investment firm CBRE announced Monday.

The transformation of the 41-year-old mall will include the addition of "lush landscaping, water features and seating areas offering visitors a comfortable place to enjoy the Florida weather,'' a news release said.

The project will include demolition of the mall's existing enclosed common area between the former JCPenney store and the rest of the mall to create room for what's described as the "new lifestyle addition.''

The owner, RD Management is "reaffirming University Mall's commitment as a pre-eminent shopping destination in Tampa Bay now and well into the future,'' said CBRE's Kelly Potter, the mall's marketing manager. "We are completely reimagining the shopping, dining and entertainment experience for our residents and visitors alike.''

Located on Fowler Avenue at the doorstep of USF, the mall also is close to four major hospitals, the Museum of Science & Industry, Busch Gardens and Adventure Island. But in a somewhat seedy area known as "suitcase city'' for its large transient population, the mall long ago was eclipsed by newer, flashier malls including International Plaza.

Dedicated in 1974, what began life as University Square Mall lost JCPenney in 2005. Its 125 remaining retail tenants include Macy's and Sears but the regular Dillard's store was converted to a clearance center seven years ago.

Among the few new tenants in recent years was Studio Movie Grill, an upscale dine-in movie theater. Starbucks pulled out in 2009.

RD Management bought the mall in December in what former Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, an outspoken advocate for the USF area, called "an enormous boon.''

Neither the cost of the renovation nor the names of the new anchors and restaurants have been announced.

New York-based RD Management, ranked as the nation's 30th largest real estate owner, is responsible for more than 200 shopping centers in 26 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. For the renovation of University Mall, it is partnering with New York's S9, an architectural firm that specializes in planning and design of large-scale, mixed-use developments.