A rendering of a different view of the proposed Seminole City Center, which developers hope to build on the site of Seminole Mall.
SEMINOLE – For over a decade, since his retirement, James Swart has regularly met his friends at Seminole Mall.
The group sits in the same spot every day – at a table at the center of the mall, right in front of Stein Mart. Sometimes there are just a handful of them; sometimes their numbers swell to more than a dozen.
“It’s just someplace to sit,” he said. “You don’t have to buy anything, and we can catch up on things, talk about life, what we’re going to eat that night.”
But as much as the Seminole Mall has been a home away from home for Swart and his friends, he said it’s time for something new.
“[The developer’s plans] are the greatest thing I’ve ever heard,” he said. “They need to tear down this dinosaur.”
And he isn’t worried about his group being displaced at the planned outdoor Seminole City Center.
“We’ll just sit outside,” he said.
In the 10-plus years since he and his friends have been gathering at the mall, they’ve seen its significant decline, he said. Many retailers have left the mall and many shops remain shuttered. These days, the air conditioning doesn’t even work properly, he said.
“It’s time for something new,” he said, and something upscale that will attract a higher class of shoppers.
Stan Monte of Largo, who has been a regular walker at the mall since he moved to the area in 1984, agrees.
“I like the new plan,” he said. “I think it’s great. I’m looking forward to it.”
He’s especially excited about the mall becoming an outdoor shopping center and hopes it will be similar to Largo Mall.
“It’s so convenient,” he added. “It has just about everything.”
Other mall regulars have mixed feelings about the plans.
Jennifer Trowbridge lives within walking distance of the mall and stops by the CVS or Bealls at least once a week.
She’s heard the new mall might be more upscale, but hopes the end result will have more affordable offerings, maybe a consignment shop or café similar to Telly’s, a mall restaurant that shut its doors this past spring.
She also wishes the mall’s structure could be saved.
“It’s beautiful in here,” she said. “It’s worth refurbishing and keeping the mall indoors.”
She added, “Something needs to be done. I’m excited about something new, but sad to see the mall go … It’s heartbreaking.”
Stein Mart employee Red Donarum said his store is excited to be a part of the mall’s future. But he also wishes it would remain an indoor shopping center.
“It’s better for business,” he said. At an outdoor mall, shops “don’t share business with each other as much” since customers can drive up to the store of their choice and aren’t forced to walk past the other retailers.
“But it’s great that something is finally being done,” he said.
And nobody is more excited about this than former Mayor Jimmy Johnson.
“The most often question asked in Seminole is: what about the mall?” he said. “Now we know about the mall.”
He added, “The plans are absolutely beautiful … There is excitement in the area. People are very happy. This is just the beginning.”
St. Petersburg College’s Seminole campus Provost Dr. James Olliver is also excited.
“Since it is literally right down the street from us, we see it as offering a variety of entertainment, shopping, restaurants and other destinations that will appeal to faculty, staff and students,” he said. “SPC-Seminole is growing rapidly (with registrations for the fall term currently up nearly 17 percent over a year ago), and we look forward to partnering with the mall, the city and the Chamber of Commerce in being part of a renaissance of sorts in our community – improving both the quantity of services and quality of life.”
Now that the plan has been made public, the city and the mall’s developers need to think about where the money to fund the project will come from, Johnson said.
“That’s the big question,” he said.
For now, “we’re just going to have to wait and see what the [City] Council does with it and where funding will come from,” said Roger Edelman, president of the Seminole Chamber of Commerce. “That’s going to be the biggest issue.”