The explosive growth of the retail industry along the University Parkway corridor -- led, of course, by the October opening of the gigantic Mall at University Town Center -- brings back nostalgic memories of the heyday of DeSoto Square. Still Bradenton's only mall, DeSoto Square sits in a prime location.
Having lost several longtime major department stores to Sarasota's new mall and struggling to fill other vacant retail space, DeSoto Square's owners are embarking on a rescue strategy -- a welcome indication of the mall's survival.
Great Neck, N.Y.-based Mason Asset Management purchased the Bradenton property two years ago and is now committed to revitalization with the company's partner, Namdar Realty. Mason handles leasing while Namdar manages operations.
The owners enlisted a mall turnaround specialist as general manager. Robert Tackett, who led the renaissance of a Louisiana center that lost every anchor, has been on the job less than two months but is already making waves. Initially, critical physical repairs top his agenda as shoppers can hardly overlook the neglect that has chased away customers.
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Easing crime fears should be a high priority, too, as many potential customers are scared off by reports of store thefts, parking lot robberies and vehicle prowling.
Once DeSoto Square gets some of its luster back, leasing will shift into high drive. Tackett is realistic about the future.
His recruiting pitch to stores is simple and realistic: DeSoto Square is a neighborhood mall, not a "super regional shopping center" like the behemoth UTC.
Already, some small shops have opened. The new owner of the movie theater is installing digital projectors and surround sound, replacing screens and cleaning chairs, a vital update from the aging cinema dinosaur once there.
We'd sure welcome a Costco there, too, a suggested target from community members who want the mall to succeed.
We'll also be cheering on Tackett as he progresses with DeSoto Square's rejuvenation. His confidence in a turnaround brings hope where once there was little.