Santa Rosa Mall could get economic boost from residents of new apartments

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).

The Renaissance Santa Rosa Apartments project is taking shape behind Santa Rosa Mall in Mary Esther. The 229-unit complex is expected to be completed by the middle of this year.

But in recent years the shopping center has lost several anchor stores and various smaller businesses.

More (2019):Construction begins on Santa Rosa Mall apartments (PHOTOS)

More:VINTAGE PHOTOS: Santa Rosa Mall in the ’70s and ’80s

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.

Self-storage business Absolute Storage has replaced Sears in Santa Rosa Mall.

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.

A shopper leaves the front entrance of the Santa Rosa Mall in Mary Esther.

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.