Rumors roll on about Seminole Mall's fate

Maybe an upscale venue with a Nordstrom's or a Sears morphed from Kmart?

Published May 23, 2007

SEMINOLE -- Speculation about the future of Seminole Mall has been one of this city's more popular guessing games since the ownership changed late last year.

And with silence from owner Downtown Seminole LLC, some of the rumors have become pretty heady, like the one about an upscale mall that would put Tampa's International Plaza to shame. Others have been more down to Earth, like the one about the Kmart morphing into a Sears. And at least one is true: The eight-screen cineplex has reopened after being closed late last month with little notice and no explanation.

"It was available. We decided to give it a shot," said Barney Kaufman, a co-owner of Seminole Theatres 8 LLC, the company that is leasing the multiplex. It opened last weekend with Shrek the Third among others and will open Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End this coming weekend.

Kaufman said there are no current plans to renovate the cineplex.

"I understand it's in very good condition," he said. But there are plans to make the atmosphere welcoming by lowering prices and touting a "neighborhood" feel to the theaters.

Seminole Theatres 8 was formed quickly to take advantage of the opportunity, Kaufman said. Some of the partners are also partners in Sunstar Theatres, a small Florida chain that was formed in 2003. Sunstar operates theaters in Sarasota, Ocala, Fort Myers and Naples. Kaufman said Sunstar could eventually take over the Seminole movieplex.

Another definite development at the mall is the formation of a walking club. Walkers had been angered earlier this year when the new owners shut them out of early morning walks because of safety concerns.

But Monday, former Seminole council member Trina Watkins, the community relations director for Freedom Square and Lake Seminole Square, announced that Freedom Square is sponsoring a Walkers Club in partnership with the mall.

The kickoff will be 9 a.m. June 1 at the food court.

One other rumor that could have some factual basis is the possible change of Kmart to Sears. The chains merged in 2004 in an $11-billion deal and many Kmart stores are being transformed.

Seminole Mayor Jimmy Johnson said he was told the transition to a Sears Limited had already begun. But Kim Freely, a spokeswoman with the national Sears office, said "We don't comment on rumors or speculations."

Johnson said the other rumor around the city is the prospect of a "very upscale" mall on the property at Park Boulevard and 113th Street N.

"I understand it's going to be more upscale than International Mall in Tampa," Johnson said. Rumored stores, he said, include Nordstrom's and "all the big boys."

But it's hard to know how much fact is behind that particular piece of gossip.

Lee Nelson, the Tampa attorney that represents Downtown Seminole LLC, said, "I'm not at liberty to comment on any of that."

Nordstrom's Web site does refer to the opening of a Florida store in another city whose name begins with "S" - Sarasota.