April 24, 2024
Jazzing it Up
The former site of Tampa's struggling University Mall has been transformed into an "urban research village" called RITHM at Uptown, which stands for Research, Innovation, Technology, Habitat and Medicine.

Photo: Rendering: Gresham Smith

Jazzing it Up
Christopher Bowen is the chief development strategist for RD Management.

Photo: Jefferee Woo/Tampa Bay Times

Economic Backbone: Commercial Real Estate

Jazzing it Up

A New York developer is converting a troubled Tampa mall into a tech village with retail, housing and entertainment.

Mike Brassfield | 3/14/2024

The struggling University Mall in Tampa was a sad scene, with empty anchor stores, dusty potted plants and stained carpets beneath the benches. JCPenney left in 2005, followed by Dillard’s in 2008, Macy’s in 2017 and Sears in 2018. Built in 1974 just west of the University of South Florida campus, the mall had acquired a seedy reputation.

Then a development group with a vision spent years buying the 113-acre mall property in pieces. Their idea: Tear down most of the mall and turn the underused site into an “urban research village” with research facilities, medical pavilions, offices, retail, housing, hotels and entertainment. They named it RITHM at Uptown, which stands for Research, Innovation, Technology, Habitat and Medicine.

The number of American shopping malls has plummeted from roughly 2,500 in the 1980s to about 600 today, and some retail experts expect maybe 150 or so might still be around in a decade.

Christopher Bowen, the chief development strategist at New York-based RD Management, says it took eight years to assemble all the parcels but ”100% control of the property” was essential. “If you look at malls in America that aren’t being redeveloped, the main reason is their ownership is all split up, so nobody has control of the property. It’s very, very difficult to do anything from a real estate redevelopment standpoint.”

Since the transformation began, a wide array of businesses have sprouted up on the mall property:

USF’s Institute of Applied Engineering, a defense contractor that works in cybersecurity and autonomous systems. Through an $85-million contract with U.S. Special Operations Command, it’s developing everything from satellites to brain injury research. It’s located next to a nail salon in a “tech loft” near the mall’s second-floor food court.

A high-tech virtual video production studio called Vu Tampa Bay, where commercials are filmed.

Hub Tampa, a 359-unit, 890-bed USF off-campus student housing complex. A second phase with 900 more beds is planned.

A Sprouts Farmers Market organic grocery that opened in September, built over a former parking lot. To help create a walkable neighborhood, the developers knew they’d need a green grocer.

Burlington, which was relocated from the other side of the mall to a new standalone building next to Sprouts.

The Advanced Manufacturing & Robotics Center (AMRoC), a non-profit community robotics lab.

There’s also a premium dine-in movie theater, and an extended-stay Marriott hotel is scheduled to break ground this month.

Part of the old mall remains standing, and it’s a dizzying mix of retail and non-retail storefronts — but the property is on its way to becoming a different place.

“It won’t be a mall anymore. There’ll be a street grid with wide sidewalks and bike paths that gets laid over where the mall was. You’re basically laying out a city center,” Bowen says. “There will be shopping just like any downtown neighborhood, but it won’t be like a mall. What’s going to be left of the mall will be sort of a community tech hub, if you will. If you come to the mall today, you’ll see that in progress.”

Tags: Real Estate, Feature

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