BRADENTON -- With a new luxury mall only months from opening its doors 12 miles away, owners of the rundown DeSoto Square Mall have listed the property for auction next month.
The auction is set to begin July 28 with an opening bid of $9 million, the Bradenton Herald has learned. Bidders will be required to make a $25,000 deposit for the 58.5 acres at the intersection of U.S. 301 Blvd. W and U.S. 41.
Many have predicted that the new Mall at University Town Center, on track to open in October, would hasten the demise of DeSoto Square. The Bradenton mall also competes with Ellenton Premium Outlets' 130 stores just eight miles away.
Originally built in 1973, DeSoto Square was purchased by Simon Property Group in August 1996, 23 years after the mall first opened. At the time, the Indianapolis-based company was the largest publicly traded real estate investment trust in North America and owned or held interest in 284 malls, lifestyle centers, outlet malls and other shopping centers in 38 states and Puerto Rico.
At the height of the real estate boom in 2004, DeSoto Square was valued at $80.2 million, property records show.
In November 2012, however, Mason Asset Management acquired the county's only indoor shopping mall for about $25 million from Simon, which had let its $61.9 million loan on the property fall into foreclosure.
At the time, Mason Asset President Elliot Nassim told the Herald he believed the mall was viable and promised to "roll up our sleeves."
Retailers who have left the mall in recent years include: FootLocker, Old Navy, Hallmark and Boater's World along with the restaurants Sbarro's and Starbucks.
According to the auction listing, the mall's current occupancy is about 95 percent.
On Saturday afternoon, however, 16 storefronts and two spots in the food court sat empty, making the choices limited for shoppers. Despite sales and major markdowns posted from store to store, the mall was sparse with customers.
Contact for the auction item is listed as Thomas Dobrowski, senior managing director and head of Eastern U.S. capital markets for Rockwood Real Estate Advisors, according to the New York firm's website. Neither he nor mall representatives returned calls for comment Saturday.
Ben Bakker, a commercial real estate agent for Michael Saunders & Co, was saddened but not surprised when he learned of the auction announcement.
"I'm sad to see the demise of the mall," Bakker said. "But with the expansion that's taken place out in Ellenton, and the new one going into University Park and all the development that Benderson already has going on out there, there's no way, I think, to resuscitate that mall."
Shopping in the area will not suffer, he added.
"I think that property could be put to better use," Bakker said. "I would love to see some social service center there. If we could, we're able to make it into one massive one-stop center."
Growing up in Bradenton, he knows it will be disappointing to see the mall close, if in fact the new owners choose to find a new use for the property.
"It is what it is -- no one wants to see the cool place from their childhood close," Bakker said. "But these things happen."
-- Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, contributed to this report.
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.