A Sears store in Citrus Park Town Center was once filled with clothing racks, furniture, home appliances and other everyday staples.
But since closing in 2018, the department store has become completely unrecognizable.
In its place are go-kart tracks, a blacklight mini golf course, laser tag, bowling, hundreds of arcade games and even an e-sports center.
A new business, a family entertainment center called Elev8 Fun, has taken over the 128,000-square-foot department store and hopes to revive a mall in a bustling suburb north of Tampa.
It’s set to open this month after delays from supply chain issues and higher construction costs.
Here’s a peek inside.
All the attractions
From the moment the former Sears comes into view, it’s hard to miss the giant and colorful rope course outside its main doors.
The entertainment center had permission from Citrus Park Town Center to build it in front of their entrance because of the higher ceiling limits, said Elev8 operations manager Keith Baldwin.
Walking into the first floor of the entertainment center, there’s flashing colorful lights coming from the arcade games and the blacklight mini-golf course, themed around Tampa’s iconic buccaneer pirates. There’s a shooting virtual reality game in an Omni Arena where guests use a VR headset, controllers and are strapped into a treadmill that detects when gamers are walking and mimics it within the game.
Further inside, there’s a bowling alley. The space also holds a restaurant offering hamburgers, pizza, chicken wings, salads and more on the menu.
Elev8 Fun built an e-sports arena just to see how it performs. While other attractions are already popular, Baldwin said they’re not sure how the arena will do since it’s a new community. But there’s potential to host and attract different competitions.
“We’re trying to be a little bit of something for everyone,” Baldwin said.
Upstairs, guests will find Elev8 Fun’s biggest attraction: the go-karts.
There are two sets of go-karts that can ride along the quarter-of-a-mile track.
The pro go-karts drive can reach speeds of 45 mph while the cadet vehicles for younger children are slower at 35 mph. Drivers race to have the best time on the clock.
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The second-floor also has a bar and laser tag.
Guests can bundle two to four activities between $25 and $47, respectively. Each bundle includes a $10 arcade credit. Prices vary on weekdays and weekends.
Can Elev8Fun bring people back to malls?
The Citrus Park mall was on the brink of foreclosure during the pandemic.
Then, it was known as Westfield Citrus Park before the shopping mall chain Westfield defaulted on a multimillion dollar loan in 2020 and the lenders took over both the Citrus Park and Countryside malls.
Sears had also struggled and filed for bankruptcy in 2018. It went from having a hundreds of stores nationwide to only 22.
In recent years, malls across Tampa Bay have redeveloped the shells of former Sears.
Some have become grocery stores - like the Whole Foods in Countryside Mall. St. Petersburg’s Tyrone Square tore its Sears down to build a Dick’s Sporting Goods and Lucky’s Market. That later became a Hitchcock’s Green Market for a period of time and is expected to be an Aldi’s next. University Mall also tore down the last Sears store in Tampa in 2020.
The South Florida-based company behind Elev8, PrimeTime Amusements, bought the former Sears store at 7902 Citrus Park Town Center Mall in 2019 for $5.5 million, according to property records. PrimeTime Amusements owner David Goldfarb told the Tampa Bay Times last year that malls have to adapt to survive against the rise of internet shopping.
But his approach is different.
He said offering entertainment will attract families back.
The Citrus Park Elev8 Fun is PrimeTime Amusements second location. It’s first one opened in Sanford.
When asked what the biggest challenge since opening in the Orlando-area was, Baldwin said people were coming to the entertainment center but not staying to shop in the mall as much as they expected.
“People just go for us, unfortunately,” Baldwin said.
Elev8 is working to adjust people’s habits, Baldwin said, to get people engaged with the mall they’re in. Having a ropes course right outside the main entrance could help.
PrimeTime Amusements plans to open more locations across Florida targeting Treasure Coast’s Jensen Beach next, the Miami-area and Jacksonville. There’s no plans to add another location in the Tampa Bay area, Baldwin said, yet.
“We’re still post COVID,” Baldwin said. “People were so locked up and are looking for new social experiences. And this is a perfect model for that.”