BRADENTON -- Having received a higher winning bid than expected during a July 26 auction of the DeSoto Square mall, owner Mason Management has rejected the $33.75 million offer in favor of hanging onto the property for at least three more years.
Mason, a Great Neck, N.Y. company, could have pocketed an $8.75 million profit from the sale, having purchased the 41-year-old mall for $25 million in 2012. But company officials chose to retain ownership once they saw what bidders were willing to pay.
"The owners evaluated everything and decided that they must be missing something and that there's more value than they perceived there to be in the property," said Jim Kramer, the mall's interim manager.
Kramer said Mason officials have told him they are interested in owning the 580,325-square-foot mall for at least three more years. During that time, the strategy is to either fill empty retail spaces and get the property to cash flow, or to improve it to the point that it can be sold at a substantial profit.
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During the past week, Mason has undertaken an ambitious schedule of cleaning and maintenance work at the south Bradenon mall as part of a program to bring in more tenants. Kramer, who has managed Mason's other Florida mall property, Regency Square Mall in Jacksonville, since April, got to work on the basics when he reported for work in Bradenton eight days ago.
He's had an electrician in the mall parking lot every day this week to fix nonworking lights that have left many of the parking spaces in the dark in recent years. An irrigation system that has not operated for four years is also under repair.
Inside the mall, janitorial personnel are cleaning floors and ceilings. Next week, mall employees will use a lift to replace burned out light bulbs and to clean cobwebs out of the highest corners.
All the work is meant to attract tenants to a property that is somewhere between 18 and 25 percent vacant, and will lose more ground when anchor store Macy's closes its doors. Macy's announced the closure the day of the auction. Weeks later, Teicher Theaters closed the Dollar Movies there as part of a companywide closure.
But the top item on Kramer's list is to hire a new mall manager. He said former manager Richard Bedford has "moved on" and will be replaced as soon as he finds the right person. During his time at the mall, Bedford also worked as an architect. He serves on the Manatee County Planning Commission.
The mall has posted ads, including on Craigslist, for the position. A posting on the International Council of Shopping Centers jobs page has a suggested salary of $50,000 a year.
The new owners want someone with entrepreneurial thinking and wants to be the face and voice of the mall.
With the changes, Kramer said, the aim is to fill up as many of the DeSoto Mall's vacant retail spaces as possible. He said he has two or three clients with retail spaces in Regency Square interested in opening additional stores at DeSoto.
Another change will come in regard to security. Kramer said the mall is fighting the perception that it is not a safe place to shop. Crimes have occurred at the mall, including several purse, cash and jewelry thefts in the mall parking lot over the past three years and an attempted theft in June at a jewelry kiosk inside the mall.
The mall will soon move away from employing a contracted security company and will employ guards directly. Kramer said mall security has already undertaken a program to better enforce a code of conduct there, including turning customers away who lack shoes, display too much skin or underwear, or who are wearing clothing emblazoned with offensive language.
"We're a family shopping environment," he said.
Business reporter Charles Schelle contributed to this story.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter@MattAtBradenton.