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    Neighbors get preview of plans for new mall

    The developer envisions an open-air, 800,000-square-foot center featuring some retailers new to the bay area at the site of Clearwater Mall.

    By CHRISTINA HEADRICK, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published December 13, 2001

    CLEARWATER -- Sembler Co. on Tuesday unveiled the design of an open-air shopping center with three large discount anchor stores at the site of what is now Clearwater Mall.

    If the city approves the plans, construction will begin by next summer.

    The plans were presented to about 200 nearby residents at a public meeting in a former Express clothing store at the near-empty mall Tuesday evening.

    Sembler's top executives hosted the briefing to show residents their plans before submitting them to the city this month and going through city hearings next year.

    The developers emphasized they wanted to be good neighbors and even asked residents to give them suggestions on note cards for the name of the new shopping center, which is expected to be worth at least $73-million when completed.

    The developers are asking the city for one big concession: to give up some land at the mall that has a fire station on it. The developers would give the city land elsewhere in exchange, but the city would have to pay about $2-million to build a new fire station.

    The new station would be near the entrance to Sky Harbor Estates, a mobile home park that borders the mall.

    Some Sky Harbor Estates residents were upset about the land swap. Resident Ruth LaForge complained that the station could be noisy and the city's fire vehicles could conflict with traffic leaving the park.

    But most mall neighbors who came Tuesday had positive things to say.

    "I think it's great, and I wish they would change it tomorrow," said Anthony Alatis, vice president of the Seville Resident Owners Association.

    Despite having the site layout ready, Craig Sher, Sembler's president and chief executive officer, declined to name major tenants of the new mall until deals are final. All he would say is that the new mall will include new versions of existing stores in the Tampa Bay area, as well as new retailers who want to get into this market.

    City officials have speculated that Target may be one of the new center's anchors, moving from a store farther north on U.S. 19 to an expanded "supercenter" Target at the mall.

    The detailed plans for the new shopping center show three large big-box anchors, as well as about a half dozen smaller buildings containing clusters of smaller stores and restaurants.

    Michaels craft store would move to a new building in the redeveloped center, while an existing tire repair store will remain in its current place, Sembler officials said. Also, one major store could have a grocery component. There are no 24-hour businesses planned at this point, they said.

    It will be necessary to drive around the "village" of stores in the new center. Sembler officials said they envision planting trees along the interior roads in the new shopping center and flowering magnolias and crepe myrtles around the parking lot.

    The developers promised to create buffers of evergreen trees between their project and nearby residences. They said that some existing large laurel oaks will have to be removed because of where they are or their condition, but the trees will be replaced elsewhere on the site with live oaks.

    Judging from simple line drawings prepared by Alfonso Architects of Tampa, the architecture of the new mall will be traditional, with brick and brown colored earth tones and accents of red, green, light beige and blue.

    The drawings of the 800,000-square-foot center resemble Largo Mall. But the design appears to have a more logical layout for cars and pedestrians to flow across the site than at Largo Mall, said Assistant City Manager Ralph Stone.

    The new shopping center would use the same access points from U.S. 19 and Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard as the existing mall, the developers said.

    "I was pleased with the plans," Stone said. "With the competition that we've got with the regional malls in the area, I think we're lucky to be getting a total redevelopment of the mall with a retail product."

    At some point, the city might sell the rest of its property to the developers, and a hotel such as a Courtyard by Marriott might be built there, city officials said.

    Demolition of the existing mall, which has only a few stores left, is slated to begin between mid-spring and early summer of 2002. The new mall will be ready by late 2003 or early 2004, Sembler officials said.

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