The area around the mall could have a whole new look and feel.
LAS VEGAS — Forget everything you think you know about DeSoto Square mall.
I know, I know — it’s hard. Certain things are hard to wipe out of your memory once you’ve seen them — especially when those things come with as much baggage as Manatee County’s only indoor shopping center does.
But for a minute here, let’s all agree to collectively make an effort to wipe out those mental images of dim, abandoned storefronts, etches on the walls where signs for big-name retailers used to be and a shuttered movie theater where you can tell they store Santa’s chair when he’s out of season. Instead, let’s look toward the future.
I had a chance to sit down with Paul Rutledge, senior vice president of Tampa-based development firm JLL, at the annual International Council of Shopping Centers conference in Las Vegas the week of May 20. Rutledge and his team are in charge of the DeSoto Square project, and its clear that they realize the 46-year-old mall needs a lot more than just some new tenants and a fresh coat of paint.
What they’re talking about is developing a county park, called DeSoto Promenade, on the 60-acre site.
It will be a community-focused, interactive and walkable area with millennial housing. Its development will deal with several longstanding site issues, including flooding, which has been a problem in that area for 30 years, Rutledge said. And while it certainly will include retail, we can expect significant physical plant changes to the structure that sits there right now.
Rutledge said he and his team are creating a destination. People should be able to walk outside with some sort of diversion, like at the Bradenton Riverwalk or an art walk, he said. Bring your dogs, bring your kids, bring the sunscreen. There’s also been discussion of adding performance areas and container homes.
The park will extend far beyond just the 60-acre parcel. Think of it as a makeover for that entire area. In total, it could extend to between 300 and 400 acres around the site.
The people who live within that radius can expect more integration, better safety and a stronger sense of community, Rutledge said.
“There might be some inconvenience and some give and take, but at the end of the day, if you let the mall go down the way it is, you know what it’s going to be,” he said.
The possibilities really are endless, Rutledge told me. He envisions it to be a community in the vein of — dare I say it — Lakewood Ranch.
What retail will exist at the eventual DeSoto Promenade remains to be seen. Rutledge did say that JLL did a study of the mall and found that JC Penney is doing a lot of business at DeSoto Square. Even with its lack of restaurants, the food court is also popular, and the Saturn 5 Arcade brings people in, according to the study. Other popular tenants include footwear sellers Champs Sports and Rack Room Shoes, he said.
Final plans are still being worked out. But it does seem like DeSoto Square as we know it could finally be getting some much-deserved new life after all.
Laura Finaldi, the Herald-Tribune’s retail and tourism reporter, can be reached at 941-361-4951 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @lauraefinaldi. Join her Sarasota-Manatee Retail News page on Facebook at facebook.com/groups/sarasotamanateeretail.