Friday, March 16, 2012

Westshore Plaza: Tampa, FL

Florida's retail graveyard is littered with its early malls. Typical built in the 60's and usually only on one level, the cheap, easy to build on land made it difficult for the early malls to compete when so many newer, larger ones sprung up so close by. Tampa's Westshore Plaza was also built in the 60's, 1967 to be exact, and also has a huge, elegant mall nearby. Reason says it should be dead. In fact, the mall is not only not dead but is still thriving as an upscale mall on its own. As Tampa's very first mall, it is a true survivor although millions in expansions have made it much larger than the simple mall it was when it opened. It is also a beautiful mall, capturing the Florida experience in a retail center that is now 45 years old.

While only one one level, Westshore Plaza was a smashing success from the start. The mall, however, started out more humble as a simple two-anchor mall with 38 tenants anchored on the north end by Maas Brothers and the south end by JCPenney. However, Maas Brothers was also Tampa's leading department store and JCPenney also an obvious popular choice, so the mall had no trouble drawing a crowd. Pinellas County across Tampa Bay had already joined the mall race then as well with DeSoto Square leading the pack, but competition was far enough away not to affect the center. Still, the mall would face significant competition as the years went on, and the owners never took that threat lightly.

The first photo shows the mall along the oldest part of the mall with high windows and high ceilings, which have been decorated to feel like a Spanish courtyard. This is one of the best ideas I have ever seen to take a dated feature common in late 60's malls to make them look contemporary. The photo above and the two below are of the center court, which forms a small tower. It is an awesome feature that is one of the most interesting center court ideas I have seen although the "center" of this mall is not actually part of the mall corridor. All photos here are by id780.

Center court features a faux skylight supported by a pole made to look like a palm tree. Surrounding are arched windows that pay ode to the Spanish colonial roots of the state. Photo by id780.

In the first photo, you see an arched entry in the distance, which is the same center court pictured in the above two photos. Photo by id780.

This view from the parking deck shows the center court from above as well as the positioning of the high windows and overhead skylights. The open wall to the left is JCPenney and the store in the background is Macy's, originally Maas Brothers. Photo by id780.

More detail along the older part of the mall including a couple storefronts. Photo by id780.

The simple two-anchor I-shaped mall changed fairly quickly after the mall opened. By June 1972, plans were announced to expand the mall. The expansion would add, according to the Evening Independent, 20-25 tenants, a three level parking garage (now the north parking deck) and at the east end a Robinson's of Florida department store. Robinson's was a chain based out of California, but was expanding to Florida with a separate division. Stores were primarily in the Tampa Bay market at the time. The entire expansion opened in 1974, and it would certainly not be the last. Obviously, with a mall that started out as small as this one did, action was necessary to keep it from having the fate of Floriland Mall further northeast.

One of the mall entrances along the old part of the mall. Note the original stoneworking on the left that is part of JCPenney. Photo by id780

While I might praise this mall's overhead design, the floor features leave a lot to be desired. No planters, mostly plain flooring and this pitiful excuse for a fountain. I would love to know what kinds of fountains were in the mall originally. I think that with this mall being Spanish-themed, some Spanish looking fountains would suffice as well. Photo by id780

Saks Fifth Avenue's mall entrance. This is quite subdued compared to the Saks Fifth Avenue's mall entrance in Atlanta. Outside, the store is basically identical to the Saks Fifth Avenue at The Summit at Mountain Brook in Birmingham. Photo by id780.

It was a good thing that Westshore expanded when it did, because only a couple years later its first major competition arrived on the scene: Tampa Bay Center. Tampa Bay Center was an elegant Rouse Company mall featuring far more natural lighting, two levels, a more contemporary design and both a Sears and Burdine's as anchors. Fortunately, this new mall would prove more as a complement to Westshore than direct threat. Montgomery Ward would later join the mall proving that for at least the time being the competition was a bit more friendly. This would not always be the case, but Westshore was not the one that needed to be worried.

Detail of one of the later-installed overhead skylights. Photo by id780

A couple views of the food court. It definitely looks like a dark, depressing afterthought. I think food courts should be inviting to be competitive with the cheaper options on the street. Atmosphere definitely helps, so maybe they should have included the food court on the second level as well. Photos by id780

It is not really known if any remodeling was done on Westshore between 1974 and the late 1990's, but it is assumed that there was probably a late 1980's remodel. All that is known in that time span was the shaking up of anchor tenants. The first came in 1987 when Robinson's of Florida sold all of their stores to Maison Blanche of New Orleans, LA. A short time later in 1991, Maison Blanche turned around and sold the stores again, this time to Dillard's. The sale created Dillard's second major expansion into the Florida market following the purchase of Ivey's of Charlotte, NC a year before. That very same year, the dust was also settling from a very volatile period for Allied Stores, which were merged and drained of resources from the Campeau takeover. Maas Brothers, once the largest regional store in the market, was combined into Burdine's. This meant that Tampa Bay Center and Westshore Plaza suddenly both had Burdine's locations in very close proximity. Amazingly, the two stores would co-exist until 1999 when Burdine's closed at Tampa Bay Center. However, that Burdine's was closed not to consolidate with Westshore but to move to the new Citrus Park Town Center that had just opened.

How do you handle adding a 14 screen theater to a mall on a very small footprint? Stack it on top. The fact that a mall that once had only 38 inline stores has morphed to over 1,000,000 square feet on a very small footprint is impressive. Photo by id780.

JCPenney is visible in the distance. While the rest of the mall has been altered to the point where it bears no resemblance to the original mall, JCPenney has been here ever since 1967 with the only change being a switch from the "Penney's" to JCPenney logo. Photo by id780.

Obviously JCPenney's mall entrance facade has been updated, too. Photo by id780.

In 1998, Westshore Plaza moved from the realm of mid-market mall to upscale mall when they scored the exclusive Saks Fifth Avenue department store. Tacked onto the west side of the mall on what appeared to be a mall entrance wing previously, this established Westshore Plaza as a truly upscale mall far from its origins as a small, basic mid-market mall. This was a wise move, because it was around this same time that it was announced that Westshore Plaza would have its hardest test yet. A mega mall was planned less than five miles away known as International Plaza and Bay Street. This mall would feature upscale stores and a hotel including three anchors with room for more. With a threat like this, it seemed that older, smaller Westshore Plaza would struggle. This was not the case for the invincible Westshore boasting its perfect location right next to I-275.

Here is the beginning of the 1974 wing that originally ended in Robinson's (now Sears) where the mall transitions from a former mall entryway in the old part to the newer part. This is close to Macy's. Photo by id780.

Along the 1974 wing in the transitional area. Photo by id780.

Once free of the constraints of the original mall structure, the Robinson's/Sears wing opens up a bit, but lacks the high ceilings of the original mall, only overhead skylights. Photo by id780

While this photo does not show much detail, the Sears mall entrance is visible enough to show it has been modified quite a bit since this was Robinson's. Photo by id780.

Westshore did not take the news of the new mall without a fight. They aggressively expanded taking the L-shaped mall and reworking it into a square completing the expansion in November 2000. The new wing tied the JCPenney wing of the mall to the Dillard's wing adding a food court and a new 14 screen, stadium seating AMC theater on a second level above the new wing. Westshore Plaza did, however, lose one anchor to International Plaza. Dillard's, which had anchored the mall for a decade, still left for the new mall. The mall, however, had no trouble filling that spot as Sears was looking to leave failing Tampa Bay Center, quickly snapped up the empty anchor. This change has resulted in four total anchors filling the building that originally housed Robinson's. Also, you can add as a side note that Burdine's, which was originally Maas Brothers, became Macy's in 2005. Are you confused?

This mall directory deserves significant explaining. The corridor between JCPenney and Macy's is the original 1967 mall with Maas Brothers and later Burdine's filling the current Macy's space. Saks Fifth Avenue was tacked onto the west side of the original mall in 1998. The east-west corridor from Macy's to Sears opened in 1974 with Sears previously occupied, respectively, by Robinson's of Florida, Maison Blanche and Dillard's. The southeast corner was added in 2000, including the food court. This portion of the mall has no natural light, because the theaters was built over the top of that portion. The North Parkade was also added in 1974 with the other two parking decks added in the 2000's. Photo by id780.

Not having a direct photo of this mall entrance is more disappointing since this was one of the original two anchors: Maas Brothers. Macy's has been here since 2005 although the store operated as Burdine's-Macy's from 2003-2005 (with no external sign changes). Photo by id780.

At least we got a peek into what was once Maas Brothers. A photo of Maas Brothers exterior was also posted on Wikipedia from 1991. Google Street View also has a modern view. Unfortunately, I do not have an updated image of this of my own since these were not my photos. Photo by id780.

A couple more shots of the newer part of the mall extending from near Sears to near JCPenney. Photos by id780.

Westshore Plaza is very similar to another mall covered in this blog, Oglethorpe Mall in Savannah, in several ways. First, the mall very aggressively expanded to fend off competition resulting in it morphing from a standard suburban mall into a premier mall. Second, both malls had Maas Brothers at anchors at different points in their history. In addition, both have not only survived but transformed simple 60's malls into beautiful, thriving malls. Both have also done numerous expansions and still continue to do so despite being on small footprints that make such expansion difficult. Westshore now has three parking decks and even then found the room to squeeze in five nice restaurants including Seasons 82. The mall also received yet another remodel in 2002.

The photographer took substantial photos of storefronts, but this one stood out because for some reason they included the city name on it. Is this the only New Balance store in Tampa?

Old Navy, which sometimes functions as a full junior anchor, holds a place in the mall. It is located near the food court. Photo by id780.

One of the original mall entryways near JCPenney. Why did 60's malls have these LONG corridors coming in like this? Also, note what's on the right, which is also in the next photo.

While they did a swanky job covering this up, this is very spooky. Clearly a store used to have outside access to this mall entry corridor, but has been permanently closed. I wish I knew exactly what was on the other side.

Another way that Westshore Mall is impressive (and similar to Oglethorpe) is how the mall has a very distinctive appearance and theme appropriate to the area. It is not known which renovation did this, but the mall was upgraded from a conventional 60's mall look to a very elaborate Spanish Colonial look with wrought iron, elegant light fixtures, shutters on the high windows (and additional windows with panes) and detailed ceiling treatments with a tasteful mix of aqua blue, tan and brown. While each addition is not exactly the same in design (the high ceilings are only found in the original mall), the improvements made to the oldest part of the mall were exceptional. Best of all is the center court, which features a tower similar to what you would find in a Spanish courtyard. It is truly one of the prettiest remodels I have seen, and one of the reasons I wanted to feature this mall over many others in the area. It is, after all, the way an upscale mall should look: distinctive and elegant. While I am certain this theme could have been made even more elaborate had this mall been open-air, I believe that the way this mall looks is one big reason that this mall has survived competition from many malls that are within a short driving distance.

The anchor likely to carry five names sits in the background behind the restaurant addition to Westshore Plaza. This view is from the South Parkade parking deck. Photo by id780.

AMC 14 Cinemas is visible with the mall hidden underneath from this vantage point. Photo by id780.

JCPenney has a curious (and rather ugly) design that has open-faced walls along a portion of the store. Apparently the building was originally designed to house three levels, but the third level did not cover the entire footprint. Considering the danger of collapse from hurricanes, apparently this wall was opened up (or maybe it was always this way?)

JCPenney built some extraordinarily strange, but distinctive stores in the 60's, but this is one of the least attractive I've ever seen. I wonder if it looked any better originally when the Penney's logo graced the front? Note the fake stone facade at the base. Photo by id780.

Saks Fifth Avenue boasts a simple, plain design that looks stately but boring. I do think, though, that this anchor being here is very important, because it is a major factor in how International Plaza did not destroy this mall in 2001. Photo by id780.

It will be interesting to see how things progress in the future with Westshore Plaza. It is clear that its popularity and expensive, frequent modifications have made it the oldest and probably the most successful mall in all of Tampa. International Plaza obviously feels the heat as they have never filled their empty anchor pads, which were undoubtedly intended for any anchors they could steal from Westshore. It will be curious to see if the inevitable failure of Sears results in Dillard's wanting to return to the store they originally snapped up 20 years ago. At International Plaza, it is the odd man out sitting between Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus. Meanwhile, the party has never stopped at Westshore Plaza. Let us hope that party continues into their 50th anniversary!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Crosscreek Mall/Greenwood Mall: Greenwood, SC

The Carolinas can definitely be described as overmalled, and South Carolina is no exception even with a more sparse selection of malls than its northern neighbor. It seemed that every town of any size in both North and South Carolina had at least one mall by the mid-1980's. Greenwood is one of those towns "of any size" with a population of a little over 23,000 in a city with about 69,000 residents in the county grouped into a trade area of nearly a quarter million people. At the time that Crosscreek Mall, now Greenwood Mall, was built, Greenwood County was experiencing a population boom with a growth of 16%. The county has continued to grow since then, though at a far more modest pace.

Crosscreek Mall first opened in August of 1979. Built by Jim Wilson & Associates, the mall was your typical small city mall of that period with two major anchors and two ancillary anchors all on one level. The line-up included Gallant Belk and JCPenney as its two major anchors. Its two ancillary anchors included Meyers-Arnold and Wilson's Showroom rounding off the mall as a fairly solid, if not small, one-level mall. I do not use the term "junior" anchor because the other two anchors were close to the same size as Belk. Meyers-Arnold was between Belk and JCPenney fronting the mall while Wilson's was in the rear.

Normally I do not lead off photos with pics of mall entrances, but these are curiously the best design-wise that this mall has to offer. The JCPenney's reflective entrance casts a gold hue against the gaudy colors of the mall, but its steps, ramps and garden underneath are a sight to behold. Belk has this likewise. Photo by Dustin Ransdell.

Detail of the garden area next to Belk reveals that floor tiles in the ramp areas are original. I'm assuming the rest of the flooring was probably terrazzo or brown brick-patterened linoleum. Photo by Dustin Ransdell.

More detail of plants and ramps outside of JCPenney. Photo by Dustin Ransdell.

Even more with some of the steps. The planters form a circular area in the middle near the entrances to JCPenney and Belk. Photo by Dustin Ransdell.

For a mall that has never changed its shape at all, the mall has seen a ridiculous amount of anchor shuffling since it opened. The first anchor changes at least were related to corporate restructuring of the anchor tenants and not anything to do with the mall itself. This came initially with the buyout of Wilson's by Tennessee-based Service Merchandise (their first major acquisition) in 1985. A couple years later, major regional chain Meyers-Arnold became another location of the rapidly expanding Atlanta-based Upton's chain. Despite this, the mall would see very little change otherwise until the end of the 1990's.

Coal mines have canaries and malls have Chick-Fil-A. As long as the mall has a Chick-Fil-A, the mall is doing fine. When Chick-Fil-A closes, the mall closure is imminent. The city has one other Chick-Fil-A nearby, but it is drive-thru only suggesting that the quirky chain is committed to the mall. Photo by Dustin Ransdell.

With a big carpeted empty circle in center court, it is clear that something is really missing. Whatever it was, the mall's original name alludes to something quite impressive. Now, it just looks like a place to to do a dance number or yoga session. Photo by Dustin Ransdell.

Here is a slightly different angle of center court, which has been a bit more difficult to get to since Upton's remained vacant for so long and Sykes Enterprises is clearly not open to the public. Chick-Fil-A is bound to love them, though, from 12-2. Photo by Dustin Ransdell.

In the early 2000's, Crosscreek Mall became Greenwood Mall when it was purchased by Hull Storey Gibson. They have been creative in their attempts of keeping this mall viable, but I give them the most accolades for keeping this one of the very few malls in their portfolio to retain a few original design features such as the indoor gardens in front of JCPenney and Belk and the sunken area in center court (which I presume once had an impressive fountain). This is one feature that does make the mall stand out from others that have been renovated into total blandness within their portfolio. The mall is also laid out at a slope with ramps and steps in the Belk, JCPenney and center courts effectively placing JCPenney at the high end of the mall and Belk on the low end.

The Belk wing of the mall looks reasonably healthy from this angle. Rue 21 seems to have become the default small town teenage store offering lower priced clothing than stores like American Eagle and Hollister. In suburban metro areas, they are usually found in upscale strip malls. Photo by Dustin Ransdell.

Empty stores like this are proof that many tenants have been vacant for quite some time. Stores like this were probably closed in the early-to-mid 90's never having been updated a single time. Photo by Dustin Ransdell.

Another dated, empty storefront is found along the entrance wing adjacent to the store above. 1979 and diagonal slatted wood seem to go hand in hand. Photo by Dustin Ransdell.

Hull Storey Gibson last renovated the mall in 2002, but their purchase of the mall likely came on the heels of the previous owners failing to re-tenant two dead anchors. This came as a result of the bankruptcy of Service Merchandise in 2002 and closure of the Upton's chain in 1999, neither related to the state of the mall itself. Service Merchandise in particular was never filled by another retail store. It instead became Sykes Enterprises, a call center. Upton's, however, finally got retooled after a long vacancy as a new TJ Maxx. The Meyers-Arnold/Upton's space was better positioned for re-tenanting with street frontage along the front of the mall facing SC 72. The Service Merchandise/Wilson's anchor does not have street frontage, which contributed to the difficulties finding a retail tenant. I wonder, though, if the owners tried to lure a theater to fill the void.

Shoe Department Encore forms the east end of the big-box trio fronting the mall. If this is the encore, then I guess the first showing was a smaller inline store? Photo by Dustin Ransdell.

Here is a view inside of the store from the mall. Photo by Dustin Ransdell.

Hey, dude, you wanna go and check out what's in Service Merchandise? SYKE!
Photo by Dustin Ransdell

It seems today that Greenwood Mall, as it is called, has lost much of its luster. While not a dead mall, the mall still has about a 20-30% vacancy rate for its inline tenants. If not for the pull from Columbia (Columbiana Mall) and from Greenville (Haywood Mall), this mall might be doing better and received a true expansion. In the past year, the front of the mall has been turned into a partial small strip with TJ Maxx opening in the Meyers-Arnold space with Michael's added to the left of it and Shoe Department Encore on the right. All three tenants also maintain mall entrances as well. Two other tenant spaces have been designated as well: neither with direct access to the mall. This means passersby would tend to mistake the enclosed mall as a strip mall. While the mall itself holds its own (it still has Chick-Fil-A, for instance), a shopper should not expect much variety in the stores. I guess I can say at least they found a way to keep the anchors filled, and it is indeed a stronger mall for Hull Storey Gibson.

If the mall leaves you with an empty feeling, you're not alone. But judging by this empty storefront, you almost are. Photo by Dustin Ransdell.

Exit right this way if you're bored with this mall. I take it you probably are unless you're reading this post for the history. If that's the case, you'll keep looking to see what this place looks like on the outside. Photo by Dustin Ransdell.

This appears to be the front mall entrance closest to JCPenney. It received a cheap remodel that makes it hard to tell how to even get inside. Photo by Dustin Ransdell.

In my opinion, the future for this mall is an eventual de-mallling. The mall seems successful enough anchor-wise, but it really fails to be the draw necessary to keep a roof on it for another decade. In a sense, the mall is curiously being "big boxed" without removing the mall itself. While this design may increase sales per square foot, it is hiding the fact that there is still a mall behind it. Another issue with the mall is that the mall is landlocked, so an efficient use of space is paramout. In my view, the mall layout is the biggest problem. Because of that, I am going to offer some suggestions in how to make the mall stand out better and still keep the big box modifications.

This vintage beauty on the back side of the mall, however, leaves no doubt on how to get inside. Photo by Dustin Ransdell.

These shots so construction along the front to convert the Meyers-Arnold and adjacent space into a big box-mall combo. I guess the owners decided a "stripped-down" approach was best. Photo by Dustin Ransdell.

Another view of construction with TJ Maxx in the center and Michael's on the left. Photo by Dustin Ransdell.

Shoe Department Encore was already open at the time this photo was taken. Photo by Dustin Ransdell.

Shoe Department Encore with adjacent mall entrance. Photo by Dustin Ransdell

First, the new TJ Maxx store should be closed (yes, despite just opening) and moved to the back of the mall where Sykes is now, but using somewhat less of the Sykes location's footprint meaning the mall can extend further back into the anchor to add more inline stores. The current TJ Maxx store should then be reconfigured as a new main mall entrance with at least one junior anchor type store on one side (Old Navy, Books-A-Million, Forever 21) and a popular sit-down restaurant on the other (perhaps Lizard's Thicket of Columbia might want to branch out here, but even IHOP might work). The front entryway should also not be built on the cheap. Make it elegant and showy with glass, a two-level atrium, bright color trim and a building material besides stucco: preferably a mixture of brick and stone. Put some funky colored lights hanging down in the atrium to show up strongly at night. The center court should also be reconfigured to have a central focal point to attract returning customers (yes, this means put a nice, terraced fountain, artwork and more elaborate decoration in the sunken area). The existing front mall entrances next to Belk and JCPenney would then be closed off and given to each department store to expand their stores, making the stores more of a draw on their own. Also, replace the carpet with floor tiles in different patterns to make the mall seem more vibrant. Carpet makes malls seem quiet and sleepy. The result would be more interest in the mall itself, a better layout and TJ Maxx would not mind as much moving to the back of the mall with more direct access to the front. Make sure, of course, to place the TJ Maxx sign next to the mall entry, and rename the mall back to Crosscreek Mall since the name is more appealing.

The mall map shows a large "exterior unit available" on the back of the mall between Sykes and JCPenney. I'm assuming this new Sears Dealer Store must be it. Photo by Dustin Ransdell

Belk had a definite model they were using for stores in 1979 for smaller stores with this copper awning. This is one of the least inspired ones. The entrance on the back side of the store is sealed off but still has the awning. Photo by Dustin Ransdell

I am not too Syke-d about anchors being taken over by call centers, but I am psyched about creating bad puns based on the name. Photo by Dustin Ransdell

Here is another prototype: JCPenney's plain white "greenhouse" look. This design endured into the early 1980's. This mall reminds me of when builders sell a set list of models of houses they can build on your property. Does the Cape Cod look not do it for you? Well try the Westbrook! It's only $10,000 more! Photo by Dustin Ransdell

I don't like the sign, nor the name, but clearly I have no authority on such matters so all I can do is complain. Oh well... Photo by Dustin Ransdell

To sum things up, Crosscreek Mall is a mall that is simply outmoded and outdated, not dead. Maybe it will never be full again, but a little planning could go a long way into making it more of a shopping destination. A better design and better layout could attract a better tenant mix keeping customers in the market happy enough not to drive to Greenville and Columbia as often for shopping. While the mall has done a decent job staying viable, and it is more attractive than most Hull Storey Gibson malls, at 33 years some additional creative efforts could give Greenwood residents a mall they could be a source of pride for the area.