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ORLANDO-Sitting in the middle of Pinellas County on one of the most valuable commercial sites in West Florida, the landmark 30-year-old Clearwater Mall is being demolished and will be replaced with a $73 million, 788,000-sf open-air shopping center next fall.

The mall closed in January of this year, unable to compete with newer, nearby retail enterprises.

Owner New Plan Excel Realty of New York, one of the country’s largest retail development REITS and joint venture partner Sembler Co. of St. Petersburg, FL, one of Florida’s largest developers, are bringing the 74-acre property back to life.

St. Petersburg-Clearwater retail brokers intimate with the redevelopment tell GlobeSt.com the owners already have pre-leased half of the 788,000 sf to name tenants such as Costco, Lowe’s Home Improvement Center, Linens N Things, Michaels Crafts and PetsMart.

Target is another potential tenant but no leased has been signed with the Minneapolis retailer, brokers tell GlobeSt.com. Estimated base rents are in the $18 per-sf to $20 per-sf range, brokers tell GlobeSt.com.

New Plan bought the distressed center in 1997 from Wilton Partners of Wilton, CT for $20 million or about $21.57 per sf, according to published reports at the time. Officials at New Plan and Sembler couldn’t be reached at GlobeSt.com’s publication deadline to confirm that figure.

At $20 million, New Plan was essentially paying $270,270 per acre or about $6.20 per sf for the 74 acres alone, since the rest of the physical property was in a deteriorating condition at the time, knowledgeable Clearwater-St. Petersburg brokers tell GlobeSt.com.

The property is at 20505 U.S. 19 North and Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard, one of the area’s hottest commercial intersections.

Previous owners invested $12 million in a 1989 renovation but the property still couldn’t compete with the newer Countryside Mall and other centers.

When Dillard’s and Gayfer’s shuttered their stores in 1999, New Plan decided the property had to have a new look and a new theme, area brokers tell GlobeSt.com.

“The center still has strong name recognition as Clearwater Mall but the new breed of retail customer is looking for a new shopping experience today, not the same old-same old stuff,” a St. Petersburg broker tells GlobeSt.com on condition of anonymity. “I think the new owner is gambling but it’s a gamble that could pay off, since the population continues to grow and expand out here.”

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