1. Business

Tampa Bay malls adding unconventional tenants to woo more shoppers

Life Time Athletic offers a different kind of experience for visitors to malls such as International Plaza, including this waiting room. The health club opened last year.
Life Time Athletic offers a different kind of experience for visitors to malls such as International Plaza, including this waiting room. The health club opened last year.
Published Jun. 26, 2015


The days of heading to the mall just to shop are about over.

Through the years, malls in the Tampa Bay area and across the country have been adding new amenities, which began with movie theaters and have expanded to include grocery stores, fitness centers and sometimes even community or technical college classrooms, in an effort to draw consumers back into their stores.

Retail centers like Tampa's International Plaza and even the tired University Mall are filling vacant spaces with fewer stores and replacing them with experience-driven businesses. They're dropping the moniker "mall," too, and replacing it with "lifestyle center" to better define the change.

"It's about the experience — that's something today's customer is craving from shopping centers," said Faith Hope Consolo, chair of the Retail Group with New York-based Douglas Elliman Real Estate. "This means that the mall is continuing to innovate and find ways to be the center of its community."

University Mall is making room for a 37,000-square-foot "health club" as part of an overhaul of the 41-year-old property near the University of South Florida. Renovations could begin as early as next year. The health club will be a key component in replacing the shuttered anchor space of the former JCPenney department store, which left the mall in 2005.

"A health club has many advantages. It brings customers in several times a week, at various times of the day," Consolo said.

University Mall isn't the first to consider a fitness center. Last year, an upscale spa and health club called Life Time Athletic, the top-tier club under the Lifetime Fitness umbrella, opened next to Nord­strom in International Plaza. It filled a space left vacant by furniture retailer Robb & Stucky.

Members can work out, get a massage, have a manicure or get their hair colored inside. The club also has its own cafe and sells prepared meals to go.

It attracts Tampa locals who are "top 20 percent income earners," and who shop at stores like Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus before or after visiting the club, general manager Joe Liotine said.

It also reaches those who stay in nearby hotels for business trips.

This is the only Life Time Athletic club in the national chain that is connected to a mall, Liotine said, but it's also one of the brand's most successful.

"We have clients who drive here from as far away as Sarasota," he said. "And we have the highest member score than any other club in the country."

Adding amenities like health clubs to a retail mix helps fill the void left behind by shuttered retailers and creates new reasons for consumers to visit a mall, said retail analyst Jeff Green.

Whole Foods Market opened in the Westfield Countryside mall in Clearwater in September. The high-end grocer took over part of the Sears department store space on the west side of the mall, which faces the busy U.S. 19 thoroughfare.

"If you think about major malls in general, they have some of the best real estate in town. So when a traditional mall format doesn't work anymore, they're still in an accessible area which is usually in a retail node with other shopping centers around it," Green said.

Dick's Sporting Goods took over the former Saks Fifth Avenue space in WestShore Plaza. Before that, Dick's opened inside Westfield Citrus Park. The big-box retailer is new to enclosed mall spaces.

Adding big-box stores and health clubs is a logical next step for the evolution of malls, Consolo said.

"As some leases expire or an anchor may leave, there are few options to replace that much space that probably aren't already in the mall," she said.

Contact Justine Griffin at Follow @SunBizGriffin.


  1. The sub station takes center stage at the new West Shore Publix supermarket opening on Thursday. [MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE  |  Times]
  2. Tampa Park Apartments is on property between downtown and Ybor City, at East Scott Street and Nuccio Parkway. [Times (2018)]
  3. Hyde House in Hyde Park Village on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020 in Tampa.  [MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times]
  4. FILE - In this Dec. 16, 2019, file photo, Disney CEO Robert Iger arrives at the world premiere of "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker", in Los Angeles  The Walt Disney Co. has named Bob Chapek CEO, replacing Bob Iger, effective immediately, the company announced Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020.  (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, FIle) [JORDAN STRAUSS  |  Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP]
  5. In this June 17, 2019, file photo, a cashier displays a packet of tobacco-flavored Juul pods at a store in San Francisco. Investigators from 39 states will look into the marketing and sales of vaping products by Juul Labs, including whether the company targeted youths and made misleading claims about nicotine content in its devices, officials announced Tuesday. Juul released a statement saying it has halted television, print and digital advertising and eliminated most flavors in response to concerns by government officials and others.  (AP Photo/Samantha Maldonado, File) [SAMANTHA MALDONADO  |  AP]
  6. St. Petersburg-based Jabil said Tuesday it's projecting that the spread of the coronavirus will hurt its second-quarter performance. [Handout photo]
  7. The future site of Green Light Cinema at 221 Second Ave on Monday, Feb. 24, 2020 in St. Petersburg. The art house theater will be nestled between Pour Taproom and 2nd & Second. [MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times]
  8. Keesha Benson is director of Thrive By Five Pinellas for the Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas. (Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas photo) [Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas County]
  9. The H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute purchased 775 acres in central Pasco County for a planned expansion. TIMES [VYCELLIX, A SWEDISH CANCER THERAPY RESEARCH COMPANY, IS SETTING UP ITS U.S. HEADQUARTERS NEAR THE H. LEE MOFFITT CANCER CENTER & RESEARCH INSTITUTE IN TAMPA. (TIMES FILES]
  10. Trader Gregory Rowe works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Monday. Stocks are opening sharply lower on Wall Street, pushing the Dow Jones Industrial Average down more than 700 points, as virus cases spread beyond China, threatening to disrupt the global economy. (AP Photo/Richard Drew) [RICHARD DREW  |  AP]
  11. [Getty Images] [Getty Images]
  12. Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik  [Times staff]