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June 9, 2017

Tampa Bay Times

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The mall isn’t dead. It’s alive and well in Tampa’s Hyde Park Village

With shops like Restoration Hardware, Williams-Sonoma and a Jacobsons department store, Hyde Park Village used to be the mainstay of luxury shopping in Tampa.

Its charming open-air streets and slew of high end restaurants and boutiques made it the shopping destination in the entire Tampa Bay region. But when International Plaza opened in 2001, it took many of Hyde Park’s long-standing tenants with it. The village struggled for years as new owners came and went without investing much in it.

Then a Boston real estate firm, WS Development, purchased the village in 2013 for $45 million with big plans to bring it back to its former glory. So far, the experiment appears to be paying off.

In an age where many chain retailers and traditional shopping malls are struggling to stay open, Hyde Park Village is described by analysts and brokers today as a bright spot in the industry. It was a shining example of a center that is “doing it right” at the recent International Council of Shopping Centers Recon convention in Las Vegas, the largest annual confab for the commercial real estate and retail industries.

“It’s become a center for the community, which is a really interesting evolution,” said Jeff Green, a retail analyst based in Phoenix. “It’s taken on its own lifestyle and it’s not what I would call a typical outdoor retail center. It’s embedded itself into the community there.”

Hyde Park Village today doesn’t quite match the sleek look of the buildings pictured in the glossy renderings released early on by WS Development, but it’s sure on its way. Construction along Hyde Park neighborhood streets to add wider, more pedestrian friendly sidewalks will wrap up by the end of the year. A new building is under construction on Swann Avenue and will open next year with more tenants. New stores, from a mix of local brands, like Buddy Brew Coffee and national chains, like Vineyard Vines, have back filled empty spaces. A robust weekend farmers market there continues to grow. Other local retailers have experimented with temporary pop-up shops in the village. And new chef-driven restaurant concepts are drawing more people into Hyde Park Village than ever before.

“On Swann is full every day. Goody Goody still has long waits. We have one of the top performing Sur La Table stores in the country. And Kendra Scott had the strongest store opening chain-wide,” said Samantha David, chief operating officer of WS Development.

This new mix of national and local stores combined with a heavier emphasis on restaurants and entertainment has all been part of the plan, David explained.

“Our biggest challenge is we’re running out of space,” she said. “We’re nearly fully leased, including the new building that will open next year, so we’re in the position of having to choose the absolute best. We do a lot of research and listen to what residents want for the village, and then we make that happen. We’ve been so lucky that there’s such an unbelievable mesh of creativity in Tampa to work with and these strong local businesses have the infrastructure behind them.”

WS Development has a knack for identifying high-end shopping malls that may have lost their luster and turn them around. That could be an outdoor center in an affluent neighborhood that needs a facelift or a busy urban street that could be spruced up by changing the mix of stores there. Like The Street in Chestnut Hill, Mass., an urban, outdoor streetscape of retailers that include the Pottery Barn and the Container Store, mixed with high-end restaurants, local merchants and an anchoring market. Or in Palm Beach, WS was responsible for the renovation of the Royal Poinciana Plaza, another outdoor-lifestyle shopping center nestled in an affluent coastal community.

“Hyde Park Village blends right into the neighborhood, and that’s what shoppers want now, to feel connected to their community,” Green said. “It means people will come more often and spend more money. Before retail dollars were leaking out of Hyde Park and into International Plaza and Westshore. They’ve been able to stem that leakage as consumers’ preferences have changed. It’s a bit less of a destination than it was before, but it’s more important to the community around it.”

Restaurants, too have been a game changer for retail centers like Hyde Park Village. As department store chains continue to struggle, landlords have begun to rely on hip, new restaurant concepts to drive more traffic to their centers, said Darren Tristano, chief insights officer with Technomic, a Chicago-based food research firm.

“It isn’t just about shopping anymore in these centers. It’s about lingering, eat, drinking,” Tristano said. “People are spending money more on socializing, especially millennials. So the trend right now is to after this kind of consumer, who may not spend the most, but go out more frequently, so they keep spending.”

David said the strategy is all about creating a sense of place where people want to go to hang out, not necessarily where they want to shop.

“You can’t spend a nice afternoon online. People still want to do something on the weekends. Charm does not come on Amazon,” she said. “We have this amazing opportunity to create a place where people want to be. Whether they come for the free popsicle in the park and then end up browsing until they buy a pair of shoes or go to the movies, Hyde Park Village is a beautiful and historic place that I think people want to spend time at.”

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