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  1. Business

Sears at Tampa's University Mall among 46 stores closing

Sears Holdings announced it will shutter 46 more locations on Thursday, including its store in Tampa's University Mall.

The latest closings will leave the city of Tampa with one remaining department store at WestShore Plaza, as the chain struggles to turn profits in a competitive retail space.

Sears said in a statement the stores on the closing list were "unprofitable."

"We continue to evaluate our network of stores, which is a critical component to our integrated retail transformation, and will make further adjustments as needed," the company said in the statement.

The latest closures come after the chain had already said it would close 63 Sears and Kmart stores in May, which included a Tampa Kmart and the Sears at Citrus Park mall.

Previous coverage: University Mall buys out Sears, unveils new name for its makeover

The University Mall location, and many of the other 33 Sears and 13 Kmart locations on the latest list, will shut their doors in November.

The University Mall, which has pledged renovation to reinvent the mall, bought the space from Sears in March. RD Management, the mall's owners, said at the time Sears would continue to operate inside by leasing the space.

Now, RD's president Richard Birdoff says the closure will help speed up the mall's ambitious development plans.

"We are eager for the opportunity to redevelop this strategic and valuable property, and are already in talks with major users," Birdoff said in a statement.

Previous coverage: Two Tampa locations among dozens of stores being closed by Sears

Retail expert Jeff Green said the news of more Sears closures doesn't surprise anyone in the development industry. Mall owners and developers — like RD — largely have had plans ready to go if their Sears location was to shut down.

"In the last 10 years their value has been in Sears' real estate, not retail operations," said Green, who is a partner at Hoffman Stratedgy Group.

Green thinks the smartest future for Sears is to stop putting money into its own retail and turn its remaining spaces into mixed spaces that will produce more revenue than the aging department store brand.

That's not a foreign concept.

Think of the former Sears at Tyrone Square Mall, which was turned into a Lucky's Market, Dick's Sporting Goods, PetSmart and Five Below by Seritage Growth Properties. That's the New York based real estate company owned by Sears CEO Eddie Lampert.

RD at University Mall is in the unique position that it already owns its Sears space. Most are still owned by Sears Holdings. RD purchased their 144,941-square-foot chunk from Sears & Roebuck Co. for $7 million.

The purchase made it the first time since the 1970s that the entire property was under one owner.

RD has big plans for the old mall, which it wants to rename "Uptown" to create a new district within Tampa.

Birdoff envisions a 100-acre, multistory "urban neighborhood development" that includes space for research, retail, hospitality ventures, health care clinics, offices and apartments.

Birdoff said the mall's Sears auto shop will remain open.

Five years ago, there were 2,000 Kmart and Sears stores across the country. Now, there will be roughly 774.

In Tampa Bay's most recent peak, there were at least eight operating Sears stores. Now that's down to four. In addition to Tampa's WestShore Plaza, the Sears at the Westfield mall in Brandon, the Gulf View Square in New Port Richey and the Coastal Way in Brooksville also remain open.

St. Petersburg's Kmart on 66th Street N. is the last one remaining in all of Tampa Bay.

Two other Florida Sears are also closing in Miami and Naples. Sears says liquidation sales will starts as early as Aug. 30.

Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com. Follow @sara_dinatale.

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