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Pinellas Park mall goes on the market

As the improved mall seeks tenants, the owner seeks a buyer.

By SHARON L. BOND

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 26, 2001


PINELLAS PARK -- Pinellas ParkSide, which sits more than half empty by U.S. 19, is up for sale after a number of renovations and the opening of a new 16-screen stadium-seating cinema this year.

The sale has been part of the plan of the owner, John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co., according to Susan Robertson, departing marketing director for the mall. Robertson is scheduled to become marketing manager for the Pier in St. Petersburg in mid October.

"John Hancock is not in the mall ownership business," Robertson said Tuesday.

The insurance giant became the owner in 1996 because it held a $13-million note on the property, then known as Pinellas Square Mall. DeBartolo Realty Corp., the owner, was supposed to pay the note in 1996 but gave the mall to Hancock.

No details, such as asking price, were available on the sale Tuesday. However, Robertson said the ParkSide 16 theater is attached to the mall and included in the sale.

"They have a 20-year lease. They are not planning on going anywhere," Robertson said. A spokesman for R/C Theaters in Maryland, which owns ParkSide 16, was not immediately available for comment.

"We are not talking about the sale of the mall. It's not information we choose to give to the public," said John Wingfield, manager of Florida operations for Divaris Real Estate LLC of Virginia Beach, Va., which leases and manages the mall for Hancock.

ParkSide opened as Pinellas Square Mall in 1977 but by the 1990s had trouble keeping tenants. After Hancock and Divaris took over, an ice-skating rink and food court were installed in 1997, which brought more people to the mall but not necessarily to spend money in stores.

Wingfield said "a lot of very interesting things" are going on concerning the mall's anchor tenants. He would not elaborate.

Robertson said negotiations were proceeding to get a third anchor for ParkSide, to fill the space vacated by Montgomery Ward. That longtime department store chain announced late last year that it was going out of business.

Of the third anchor, Robertson said, "If and when that happens, it will be a big turnaround and help the sale."

The mall has 104 stores and an occupancy rate of 41 percent, Robertson said. Dillard's Department Store and JCPenney Outlet Store occupy the other two anchor spots. J.C. Penney Co. had a full-line department store at ParkSide until 1998, when it changed it to an outlet.

The name was changed in 1998 to Pinellas ParkSide after Divaris and Hancock spent $5-million upgrading the mall. They believed a new name would help dispel the notion that the mall never would emerge from its slumber as a lively retail center.

Why ParkSide has so many vacancies is puzzling.

"It remains baffling," said Pinellas Park City Council member Ed Taylor. "It's got to be the No. 1 location in the county."

Taylor said he believed Divaris had worked hard trying to revive the mall. And he said the city had allowed variances to help, such as the monopole that is high enough so that the mall's name can be seen by those approaching from Gandy Boulevard. He said the city waived transportation impact fees for the theater as it was being built.

At various times, community services such as the Pinellas Park Public Library have used space in the mall. Later this year or early next year, the Pinellas Park Art Society and the Pinellas Park/Mid-County Chamber of Commerce will move into the mall while a new building is built for them on Park Boulevard.

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