CBS 'Sunday Morning' misses out on University Town Center in mall story

March 26, 2014 

CBS news magazine "Sunday Morning" opined over America's obsessions with shopping malls and the death of the mall, which has been heralded since Amazon.com first went online.

Considering there's a $315 million mall rising up in University Park, the television piece held my attention as the correspondent talked to the author of "The New Rules of Retail" Robin Lewis, who predicts that half of the malls in the United States will close within 10 years. Then the correspondent drops a nugget that no new enclosed mall has been built since 2006.

Hold up. If that is accurate, the Mall at University Town Center would become the first enclosed mall built in the United States since 2006. Really? Eh, kind of.

The 880,000-square-foot mall is set to open Oct. 16 with the likes of Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy's, Dillard's, Apple Store, Lululemon, Omega watches and other high-end brands along with restaurants like Capital Grille and the latest addition Zinburger Wine & Burger Bar. Benderson Development is going 50-50 with Taubman on the new mall that will be on the corner of Cattlemen Road and University Parkway.

I reached out to the International Council of Shopping Centers to verify as that nugget was unattributed in at least three stories on malls since 2008.

The last enclosed mall built was the City Creek Center in Salt Lake City, a project that is managed by Taubman Centers, who is overseeing the Mall at UTC, according to an ICSC spokesman. The mall was a partnership with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and features a retractable roof. That feature is of much significance. It's the difference between going to games

at Tropicana Field and Marlins Park. The downtown project included housing and retail and some still consider City Creek an open-air shopping center because of its retractable roof. I raised the question and the ICSC spokesman agreed that it's a valid point to say it's kind of cheating.

The Mall at Turtle Creek in Jonesboro, Ark., on March 29, 2006, was considered to be the last truly enclosed mall constructed, according to the ICSC, and was the only enclosed mall to open in the country that year. After the mall boom of the '90s, town center-style shopping centers became the norm along with open-air shopping like premium outlets.

The housing crash was just picking up steam when that suburban Arkansas mall opened -- a year after the original announcement about the Mall at UTC by Taubman and then-partner Forbes Co. (The original version of Mall at UTC planned for a Neiman Marcus, too.)

The story behind University Park's suburban, regional mall is unlike any other in the country considering its phoenix-like rising, and it ought have received at least a passing mention by CBS' national correspondent. Does it represent a national trend of malls making a comeback? Probably not. The Mall at UTC's General Manager Octavio "Tav" Ortiz's data about the lack of retail for the region is very much a local issue. Albeit, surprising considering the region's slowed growth during the housing crash.

Ortiz told a luncheon crowd earlier this month that the mall's trade area from St. Petersburg to Fort Myers has 4.5 leasable square feet per capita, which is 36 percent below the national average of 7.1 square feet. The retail space is in as much demand as a better interchange to get there.

I'm willing to agree with CBS' nugget about enclosed mall construction. The mall construction line first appeared in a 2009 Wall Street Journal story from what I could find and later repeated twice in 2012 by two other publications -- one before City Creek opened and another after.

What's kind of funny is that the Mall at UTC could have been the last totally enclosed mall built in America, too, as the mall would have taken just under two years to build putting it on pace for a 2007 opening.

So, is the Mall at University Town Center the first American enclosed mall to be built since 2006? Sure.

It's a little claim to fame that doesn't really win anyone anything, save for trivia night at Gecko's.

Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck

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