UNIVERSITY MALL: PENSACOLA, FL
Many Random Commentaries
Posted May 3, 2011 (user submitted from 2005-2010)
Fifteen months after announcing plans for a makeover of University Mall, Simon Property Management is now targeting a January 2009 start date for construction and reopening after construction is completed. Didn't happen - it is obvious that University Mall in Pensacola, FL is dead. Right after Christmas 2008, ALL of the mall stores closed and moved out - still operating are JC Penny, Belk & Sears.
Since Hurricane Ivan in 2004, the mall has been in complete disreapir - Simon did little to fix the hurricane damage, which ran off the best of the stores, which were replaced with cheesy stores (karate lessons, weight loss, home window replacement shop, real-estate agency, etc.)
The newspapers won't say it - but everybody here is certain that the planned "life center" renovations will not happen anytime soon. Especially with the current state of the ecomony.
Simon recently completed an $11,000,000 renovation of Cordova Mall (in Pensacola). The superintendent for the Cordova Mall renovation lived in an apartment over our office. About three weeks ago, he was told us that he was slated to head up the University Mall renovation. We suggested that it wasn't going to happen - but he was blind to it all and said Simon is the largest bla bla bla and that he knew first hand that the renovations were going to start before the end of Jan. 2009. Simon laid him off last week!
The mall is so run down now that I just don't see how the three anchor stores can survive it much longer.
Up until the late the 1990s, University Mall was a popular place to shop. Directly next to an I-10 offramp, it was easily accessible for people coming to Pensacola from southeast Alabama, folks who had the choice of coming to Pensacola or braving the increasingly intense traffic in Mobile. Its main competition, Cordova Mall, was owned by Simon, which of course pumped a lot of $$ into it; his added to he reputation of Cordova Mall as somewhat more upscale, an image aided by its much larger size. In the late 80s, Pensacola's three malls went through what I refer to as their 'Miami Vice' makeovers; dark colors with little contrast became peach and turquiose. From here on out, it was clear that Cordova was leading the way, with University trailing behind, albeit closely. As time passed, the area's first mall, Mariner [originally Westwood] Mall died its own slow death, a death straight out of the Deadmalls textbook, including a lingering end which saw as its only tenants Scotty's Hardware [as an anchor!], an AMC second-run theater, a small arcade, and Sally's Beauty Supply.
University Mall carried on, through the early- and mid- 90s, with a formula of easy access, desirable outparcels [including A Holiday Inn, an La Quinta Inn, Darryl's, Bennigan's, and a second-run theater called the Silver Screen that included a fast-food menu and tables and chairs in the theaters], and a nice belend of big-time and local stores. By the late 90s, however, Simon acquired University Mall. Inexplicably, it began to dismantle the remaining character that this shopping center had; its smaller retailers were squeezed out by raises in rent, replaced by stores that already had outlets in Cordova Mall. The idea was seemingly to make it a 'Simon Mall', regardless of the fact that a much larger Simon Mall was not that far away. Then, after a few years, there was a shooting in front of Darryl's; this killed their business as well as Bennigans', which was directly next door. Both were closed not long after [the fact that they backed up on I-10 added to the perception of insecurity- I even had a license plate stolen while I worked at Darryl'l in high school, and coworkers had cars broken into]. Add to this the demise of mall movie theaters in favor of separate megaplexes, and University Mall's future began to look less rosy.
Fast forward to 2004. Thanks to changing shopping habits, immense, disruptive road construction on Davis Highway in front of the mall, and new Walmarts and other developments in the areas that folks used to have to drive from to shop, University Mall is now on the glidepath to being a full-fledged Second-Class Mall. In September '04, I joined the Air Force; I left days before Hurricane Ivan made direct impact onto Pensacola, so the rest of this account is not firsthand. The accompanying damage apparently finished off most of University Mall; it wasn't catastrophic, but roof damage, water damage, etc were too much for the small operators that made up most of the store population. The anchors, however, remained, doing pretty solid business; JC Penney, Sears, and McRaes [now Belk] survive to this day. As stated in the article above, Victoria's Secret, Dollar General, Bath and Body Works and Payless Shoes have all closed up in recent weeks, leaving Rainbow Apparel Company as the only non-anchor tenant. Two years ago, Simon announced a major renovation that would convert University into a 'Lifesyle Center'. To this day, no permits have even been acquired, and the [mostly] empty husk still sits, still at what should be a prime location next to the I-10/I-110 interchange, on a finally six-laned Davis Highway.
University Mall in Pensacola, FL has been on a steady decline since I moved to the area in 1994. In recent years, however, it has gone from bad to worse. Since Hurricane Ivan hit the Emerald Coast in 2004, the mall has fallen into a state of dispair. The last time I was in the mall, the anchor stores--Sears and JC Penney were open, and a couple of small stores like Radio Shack were still open. The food court is 100% empty. There really aren't any small stores. We have begun calling this the scary mall because it is truly scary to venture into it outside of the anchor stores. The ironic thing about this mall is that they have a display along the concourse of stores that used to be there. It is kind of an historical tribute to days past. I am not sure what has driven this mall to its present state other than that Pensacola is not necessarily a growing city. One of their main sources of population--Naval Air Station Pensacola--has been drawing down more and more over the years. There is a University within a few miles of the mall (hence the name University Mall), but there has been an increase of strip malls being built closer to the campus in recent years. Maybe that has contributed to the decline.
University Mall, formerly University Square Mall, located on Fowler Avenue in Tampa has been in decline over the past few years and seems to be having trouble keeping anchor stores there.
JC Penney closed its doors in 2005, and Dillard changed from a traditional retail store to a clearance center in 2008. In April 2009, the mall's owners filed for bankruptcy protection.
Newer malls ~ Citrus Park & International Mall seem to be luring customers away.
Pensacola has two malls, Cordova & University. Interestingly, they are located just two miles apart and are the only two malls servicing a metro area of around 500,000 people. Both properties are owned by Simon Property Group. Cordova recently completed a major interior/exterior face-lift with a new food court. University, however, recently finished shuttering the last of it's common area tenants and all that remains are the anchors, Penney's, Sear's, and Belk's. The mall common area has remained open so that the customers from each of the major tenants can go from store to store without being exposed to the weather.
Two-year old plans for a lifestyle center on the property have been put on indefinite hold by Simon due to the recent economic climate. A scheduled demolition of the common area was initially postponed from late last year until early 2009 then was indefinitely put on hold.
That's where she stands today, an eerily empty common area connecting three major tenants which seem to be doing well under the circumstances.
Pensacola, FL, University Mall has been mostly vacant 99% I'd say (minus Belk and Sears) for years now. Going on 5-6 years they've been saying they were going to do this or that, however it remains a ghost town in there. I think it's a perfect example of a dead mall.
The big, new mall when it opened in the mid-70s, it faltered when nearby Cordova Mall was renovated and given a major expansion in the late '80s. It never recovered from extensive damage from Hurrican Ivan in 2004, limping along until a plan was announced to leave only the three anchor stores standing and demolish the rest of the mall to build one of the oh-so-trendy open-air shopping and dining complexes. Then the economy tanked. The mall did in fact close, leaving only the anchors (Sears, JC Penny, Belk), but demolition/construction never began.
I was in the mall on November 28, 2009. Talk about creepy! You can actually walk through the deserted mall to navigate between the anchor stores. It's quiet and cold as a tomb, eerie and depressing. This is where we hung out on Friday and Saturday nights when I was in middle and high school! There are some great deadmall photos to be had, but I did not have a camera with me last weekend.
University Mall is located about 5 minutes from the University of West Florida in Pensacola, FL.
Back in the 80's and early 90's it was THE mall in Pensacola. However, with the opening of the larger Cordova Mall near the airport just another 5 minutes away from University Mall, the place began to slowly die away.
Now, only the anchor stores, Sears, Belk, and JC Penny, still exist, connected by the remains of the mall. There are leaks, exposed insulation and air ducts from "renovations", and one security guard if you can find him.
Crossing over from one of the semi-alive anchor stores into the mall is like crossing point Charlie, as the mall no longer turns the lights on, but relies on the few skylights not covered completely in mold or leaves.
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