MANATEE -- DeSoto Square has hired a permanent general manager tasked with turning the mall around.
Robert Tackett, a former area director for Orlando Premium Outlets for Simon Property Group, was hired Monday to manage the mall.
"We want to make this a friendlier community center that people feel comfortable shopping in," Tackett said in a phone interview.
Jim Kramer has served as an interim manager since Sept. 2 after former general manager Richard Bedford quit. Kramer has been splitting his time with another Mason Asset Management property in Jacksonville, Regency Square Mall.
Tackett, a native of Cincinnati maintains a home in Parrish and is intimately familiar with DeSoto Square as it was once a Simon property.
"One of the first things we want to do is we want to reach out to local, regional and national tenants to fill some of the vacancies," he said.
While Bedford declined comment to the Bradenton Herald about his time there, he did post on the Bradenton Herald's Facebook page on Sept. 11 that he "quit because he couldn't get the NYC owners to spend any real money."
Kramer said in the two weeks since taking over, Mason Asset of Great Neck, N.Y., has given him more than $30,000 to make improvements.
"Mason Asset provides funds for improvements for the property if presented in the proper forum and venue," Kramer said.
Kramer said he was tackling an ambitious plan to replace light bulbs, fix a pot hole, clean and perform other maintenance ignored over the years. One of the more noticeable issues is that the parking lot lights behind Macy's along with the mall entrance sign would not light up at night. Inside, the mall could have resembled a haunted house.
"I had walked in here three weeks ago and saw cobwebs that were 4- feet-tall," Kramer said. "They were natural cobwebs. Needless to
say we weren't decorating for Halloween."
Store managers inside the mall complained in the past about roof leaks and that basic mall marketing had faltered, too. The mall store directory still has Simon Property Group, the former owner's information on it, and has been a makeshift replacement. When Kramer walked through the mall this month, he saw Mother's Day advertisements still on display. All that will change, Tackett and Kramer said.
"We're not going anywhere but forward," Kramer said.
Hopes were high in the community a new owner would redevelop the property after a $33.75 million bid was placed at a July 26 auction. The same day, Macy's announced it would leave the mall and weeks later, Teicher Theaters closed the Dollar Movies after the owner retired. Then, Mason Asset Management rejected the bid. Mason Asset paid $25 million for the mall in 2012.
Instead, Mason decided it will give a new manager a shot at improving the property.
The theaters won't sit empty for long. Kramer said a lease was just signed to reopen it as DeSoto Six Cinema.
"We're excited someone saw an opportunity and didn't leave it sitting," he said. The reopening is scheduled to take place in the coming weeks.
Tackett, only on his first day on the job, said he knows he has to get up to speed on a strategy to fill the 132,208-square-foot Macy's set to close this weekend.
"We'll have to go out and see what someone would want to come into that place," Tackett said.
One strategy to fill space inside the mall includes using non-retail tenants, Tackett said. A CrossFit gym tried to be that non-retail tenant last year, but left after it found the mall wasn't the right demographic for the extreme fitness center. The 11,000-square-foot former Boater's World where the gym once stood still needs a tenant, representing the largest in-line tenant vacancy.
This month, Saturn 5 Amusements' John Russo opened a Gameroom Superstore near Macy's to fill a space, selling arcade games and billiards tables.
Because the mall still has three other anchors -- Sears, J.C. Penney and Hudson Furniture -- tenants can't exercise a co-tenancy clause to leave, Kramer said.
Still, many of the mall's leases end within the next two years creating a special challenge. Mason Asset gave the marching orders the center should return to its better days, Kramer said, adding "we were definitely not achieving here."
"It's pretty much bring the center back to a center of accessibility to our customers," Kramer said. "Make it a community center that it once was, as it was years ago."
Tackett said a balanced national, regional and local tenant mix is key to the mall's health.
"This is a community mall," Tackett said. "You have to have tenants based on the needs of the community."
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.