MARY ESTHER — Trevor McIntosh has some ideas on how to attract more shoppers at the 45-year-old Santa Rosa Mall.
“I’d like to see this mall busy, like it used to be,” McIntosh, who has operated his Navarre 3D Printing & Laser Engraving store at the mall for about a year, said Thursday. “What we need is a bunch of small businesses coming in. The days of Sears and JCPenney are over.”
When the mall opened in 1976 at 300 Mary Esther Blvd., it had 54 stores, including Sears, JCPenney and Gayfer’s (now Dillard’s).
But in recent years the shopping center has lost several anchor stores and various smaller businesses.
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For example, the Belk department store closed in early 2014, Sears closed in late 2018 and Zales Jewelers closed in January 2019.
JCPenney was the latest anchor store to depart the mall, which more recently saw the loss of smaller businesses such as Journeys Shoes store, Sakura Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar and a bounce house next to the food court.
“We need more businesses in the food court,” McIntosh said.
Kori Burton, the mall’s property manager, could not be immediately reached for information on the mall’s current number of businesses and vacant store sites.
Absolute Storage now stands in the former Sears location. And the brand-new, 229-unit Renaissance Santa Rosa Apartments development stands in the old Belk space on the mall’s northwest side.
McIntosh, other folks who run businesses at the mall, and the mall’s owner said they anticipate the tenants of the apartments will shop at the mall and give it a needed economic shot in the arm.
More:Luxury apartments break ground next to Santa Rosa Mall
Rea Ventures Group LLC of Atlanta, along with the mall’s owner, Radiant Partners LLC of New York City, recently began pre-leasing the apartments.
Initial occupancy is scheduled for this month, and the $45 million apartment community at 200 Page Bacon Road is scheduled to be fully complete by May.
“Santa Rosa Mall has been a prominent and important part of Mary Esther and Okaloosa County since the 1970s,” David Schonberger, a partner with Radiant Partners, said in a statement.
“The vision for (Renaissance Santa Rosa) started over three years ago when we began asking how to re-purpose and re-envision the mall as a mixed-use destination. Renaissance Santa Rosa is the first major step to fulfilling this vision by bringing 229 new households (and) over 300 new residents that are spending their disposable income locally — in the local shops, restaurants, grocery stores, businesses — generating local tax revenue. Renaissance Santa Rosa will be a catalyst for additional investment and transformation of the mall and surrounding area.”
The apartment community includes one-, two- and three-bedroom units and 10 floor plans.
Monthly lease rates range from $1,240 for a 602-square-foot, one-bedroom, one-bath apartment to $1,955 for a 1,431-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bath apartment, according to the apartment community’s website.
At the mall, the tenants of the apartments will find a safe place to shop and eat, McIntosh said. He also noted that the mall’s recently-installed lockers where people can pick up packages ordered from Amazon will help bring in more potential customers.
“It works for me,” McIntosh said of his spot at the mall. “But I’m not dependent on foot traffic. I’m a destination type of business.”
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At the Crackers eatery in the mall’s food court, Crackers co-owner Bahai Nabulsi also said he anticipates residents of the new apartments will frequent the mall.
“The residents there will go shopping and eating here,” he said. “It was a very good move to build the apartments.”
Crackers has been in business at the mall for 29 years, Nabulsi said.
“I love this mall,” he said. “It’s a beautiful mall with excellent management.”
While the pandemic certainly has brought major challenges, “We’re still in business,” Nabulsi said. “We’re still going. I hope we get rid of the coronavirus and get back to normal.”
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