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

University Mall in Tampa, one of the city's oldest malls, is vying for a comeback and on Tuesday its New York owners announced not only a new purchase, but a new name, too.[Handout photo courtesy of RD Management]
Published Mar. 13, 2018

TAMPA — One of the city's oldest malls is vying for a comeback and on Tuesday its New York owners announced not only a new purchase, but a new name, too.

RD Management bought out the Sears inside University Plaza for $7 million, according to a deed filed with Hillsborough County last week. Now that it owns that 144,941-square-foot chunk of the complex, it can go forward with plans to revamp the nearly 50-year-old mall under the new name "Uptown."

"The acquisition of the Sears property marks a significant milestone in the transformation of the entire University Mall site," said Roger Hirschhorn, COO of RD Management, in a prepared statement.

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This is the first time since the mall was constructed in the 1970s that the entire nearly 100-acre property will be under one owner.

The Sears location, which was owned by Sears, Roebuck & Co,, will remain as a tenant, according to the management company. Developers say it will be part of a dynamic mixed-use center that has been long envisioned.

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The mall, a neighbor to the University of South Florida, initially announced plans to renovate in 2015. Its plans included demolition of the mall's enclosed common area and the addition of "lush landscaping, water features and seating areas."

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"In order to be successful we need to have a very solid master plan, but a format that allows flexibility and opportunity," said RD Management development strategist Chris Bowen.

No date has been set yet for finishing construction nor changing the mall's name.

Bowen said while plans are fluid, what details developers plan to release in the next few months are on track with the open-air, mixed-used renderings released in the last few years.

Some of their plans have already taken shape: Portillo's and Miller's Ale House have opened and Dillard's returned to the mall in spring of 2017, taking over the space Macy's abandoned two years before.

The mall has about 120 current tenants including and an upscale movie theater/restaurant, GameStop, Famous Footwear, Grand's and Victoria's Secrets.

But the two floors JC Penny vacated in 2005 are still vacant.

Still, Bowen and his team have big dreams — some of which might take up to a decade to actualize.

Ultimately, RD Management hopes to foster an "Uptown District" that gives the neighborhood a stronger identity.

The mall and other nearby hubs — USF, Busch Gardens, Moffitt Cancer Center — are part of what used to be known as the Tampa Innovation Alliance and now goes by: "!p".

Bowen and his team hope to capitalize off that industry network by creating a "North Tampa renaissance." He envisions a mall that brings together the neighborhood's needs: from health and wellness to traditional retail.

"The (retailers) that are the best," Bowen said, "are the ones who listen to their communities."

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

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