Tampa Bay Center; Tampa, Florida

Opened in August 1976, Tampa Bay Center was one of Tampa Bay’s biggest and brightest shopping destinations. Centrally located north of downtown Tampa along Martin Luther King Jr Blvd (called Buffalo Avenue then) east of Dale Mabry Hwy, Tampa Bay Center was next to Tampa Stadium, home of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was the place to be during the late 1970s and 1980s; but, despite rapid growth in the fruitful Tampa Bay area over the coming years and decades, Tampa Bay Center’s fate was ultimately sealed by far too much competition. When it opened, Tampa Bay Center had over 700,000 square feet of retail space and two anchors: Tampa’s first Burdines store and Sears, which actually opened before the mall did, in March 1976. The two anchors at Tampa Bay Center were arranged at each end of the structure, and a two-level mall corridor connected them.

This one’s long gone, so enjoy.

Opened in August 1976, Tampa Bay Center was one of Tampa Bay’s biggest and brightest shopping destinations.  Centrally located north of downtown Tampa along Martin Luther King Jr Blvd (called Buffalo Avenue then) east of Dale Mabry Hwy, Tampa Bay Center was next to Tampa Stadium, home of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  It was the place to be during the late 1970s and 1980s; but, despite rapid growth in the fruitful Tampa Bay area over the coming years and decades, Tampa Bay Center’s fate was ultimately sealed by far too much competition.

When it opened, Tampa Bay Center had over 700,000 square feet of retail space and two anchors: Tampa’s first Burdines store and Sears, which actually opened before the mall did, in March 1976.   The two anchors at Tampa Bay Center were arranged at each end of the structure, and a two-level mall corridor connected them.

Due to the mall’s early success, Montgomery Ward was added as a third anchor near center court in 1980, bringing the center to almost 900,000 square feet.  It was the first and only major addition to the mall during its entire history.

A piece of random trivia: Tampa Bay Center opened one day after another long-gone Tampa mall, Eastlake Square, which was similarly sized and located 6.5 miles away.

Designed by Maryland-based Rouse, Tampa Bay Center featured a tall, latticework trussed ceiling design, flanked on both sides by skylights, which bathed the entire center in natural light during a time when dark, drab colors and drop ceilings were common.  However, the dark tile floors at Tampa Bay Center were more period-appropriate, as were the fountains and the tall trees placed throughout the first level.  In addition, a glass elevator at center court was the mall’s centerpiece, and a unique-for-Florida design included a slope to the property, which meant shoppers could enter either level of the mall directly from the parking lot.

In terms of competition, Tampa Bay Center’s biggest foe was nearby WestShore Plaza, which opened in 1967 as the Tampa Bay area’s first mall and was located only a couple miles away.  WestShore and Tampa Bay Center had complementary anchors and thrived nearly side by side for years; however, WestShore was always the more upscale, more conveniently located counterpart to Tampa Bay Center’s stadium-adjacent austerity.  Eventually, WestShore began to emerge as the winner while Tampa Bay Center slowly spiraled downward.

By the late 1990s, Tampa Bay Center was in serious decline.  WestShore Plaza announced plans for a dramatic expansion, beginning in 1997, which was basically the beginning of the end for Tampa Bay Center.  A larger WestShore, directly on I-275 and centrally located within the Tampa Bay area, would spell disaster for Tampa Bay Center.

In addition to the WestShore expansion, a huge brand new mall, Brandon Town Center, opened in 1995 to serve the fast-growing sprawl in eastern Tampa, and in 1999 another massive mall called Citrus Park Town Center opened to serve Tampa’s north and northwest areas.

Meanwhile, in June 1998, Burdines announced they were leaving Tampa Bay Center, due both to building a new Citrus Park store as well as having a store just a few miles away at WestShore.  For eight years, Burdines had operated stores at both WestShore Plaza and Tampa Bay Center after Burdines took over the Tampa-based Maas Brothers chain in 1991, which had a WestShore location.  In 1999, Burdines closed their Tampa Bay Center store in favor of opening one at the new Citrus Park Town Center.

In late 2000, Montgomery Ward issued Tampa Bay Center another blow, by going out of business nationwide.  With only Sears remaining, stores began leaving in droves, favoring either Citrus Park or WestShore locations.

As if all this competition weren’t enough already, regional mall-developer Taubman swooped in and decided to develop yet another large mall, located adjacent to Tampa’s airport and directly in between Tampa Bay Center and WestShore Plaza – only a mile from each.  Called International Plaza and Bay Street, Tampa’s newest mall to date was another large, two-level behemoth, and with Dillard’s, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, and Lord and Taylor as anchors, it was proposed to be even more upscale and successful than WestShore.

With International Mall and Bay Street set to open in 2001, Tampa Bay Center faced an incredibly challenging uphill battle.  By early 2001, many stores had already left Tampa Bay Center, and by Summer 2001 the remaining few stores were on month-to-month leases.

The final death knell came in Fall 2001 when Sears, Tampa Bay Center’s final anchor, announced it was leaving.  Recognizing they were underwater in the deluge of competition and no longer under the obligation to maintain the 892,000 square-foot mall after Sears announced its departure, Rouse kicked out the mall walkers and whatever stores were left and closed the interior of the mall in January 2002.  Sears, the final anchor at Tampa Bay Center, closed in September 2002.  Though, with the mall already closed, Sears wasn’t anchoring much.  Sears left due to opportunity: International Plaza lured Dillard’s away from WestShore, WestShore had a vacancy, and Sears saw an opportunity to jump from a sinking (sunken?) ship.

After Sears left, Rouse decided to market the mall for sale, and DeBartolo indicated interest in purchasing the mall to build an open-air retail center, but ultimately declined.  Rouse came to the conclusion the site was no longer viable for retail given so much area competition. Rouse then sold the mall on December 31, 2002 for $22.8 million in cash to the Glazer family, owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who intended to turn about half the site into a training facility to complement the neighboring stadium.

Of course, this meant no more mall, and Tampa Bay Center was demolished 2005.  The Bucs moved into the training facility in time for their 2006 season.  The rest of the site became home to an overflow lot for Bucs games, and in 2007 the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit West Tampa Transfer Center opened to wow bus crowds near and far, but probably mostly near?

I visited Tampa Bay Center in May 2001 and took the pictures featured here, a short time before the mall closed permanently – please ignore my teenage mug in one of them.  Tampa Bay Center, while once a successful retail pillar of Tampa, ultimately succumbed to one of the fiercest levels of competition we’ve seen yet.  As usual, feel free to leave your comments and experiences.

Elsewhere on the web:

Photos from May 2001:


27 thoughts on “Tampa Bay Center; Tampa, Florida”

  1. I remember this mall very, very well when stopping here while visiting family in the area. This mall truly raised the bar in Florida, as malls like this (2 levels, airy, etc) were not very common in design…the only similarly designed mall at this time was Altamonte Mall, north of Orlando (awesome retro design by the way). I am truly saddened that the trend in mall design does not favor towering trees and fountains.

    This is truly a Rouse mall and it looks eerily similar to Staten Island Mall, Augusta Mall, White Marsh Mall, The Mall in Columbia, Garden State Plaza (pre 1996) and Oxford Valley Mall.

    Unfortunately, Tampa Bay Center was unable to compete or adjust itself, and International Plaza was the true death knell to this mall (it is located adjacent to Tampa International Airport, less than one mile from Dale Mabry Highway and Raymond James Stadium). We must hold Tampa Bay Center high because had it not been for this mall raising the bar, we may never have seen malls like International Plaza, Westshore Plaza, Mall at Millenia and Florida Mall take it to the next level in Central Florida.

  2. First off, that’s the oldest Sears frontage I’ve ever seen.

    Secondly, I wonder how this mall would’ve been affected if Lake Fair Mall opened.

    Lake Fair Mall would’ve been a bit (south?) of the current Westfield Citrus Park, and, yes, it was by the makers of Forest Fair Mall. If it opened, Lake Fair Mall would feature 1.7 million square feet of space, bigg’s, Bonwit Teller, B. Altman, Maas Brothers, Burdines (both had signed before they merged), and bigg’s. Yikes.

  3. @Pseudo3D, It probably would have died a lot sooner. That one was supposed to open by like, 1990 I think? Though, true to form, that one may have died much like Forest Fair. However, the fast-growing Tampa market could have supported it far better than stodgy Cincinnati. If it did succeed, though, it probably would have fought against WestShore and International Plaza might not have even been considered? It’s really interesting though.

  4. What I find remarkable is how this center basicly got squeezed out by a pair of malls who them selves are only a mile a part & yet the metro area is truely a sprallburg. Is the city of Tampa not as large as one might think, even though the metro area is getting larger almost every year?

  5. @SEAN, well, that’s only one part of the Tampa Bay area, it’s not counting things like ParkSide Mall in Lakeside, which perished in the early 2000s.

  6. @SEAN, Not just Tampa Bay, but all of Central Florida seems like it’s growing by leaps and bounds! It wasn’t too long ago where the drive down I-4 from Orlando to Tampa was a bit rustic and lonely. It now seems like any interstate highway in New Jersey…the same goes for I-75 due north of Tampa! The area where some of my family lives, north of Tampa, has been in existence for about 5 years!

  7. @mallguy, Oh I know, it’s enough to make one lose ones mind!

    If you have a chance take a look around the Aventura area between Miami & Fort Lauderdale. If you go up & down both Biscayne Boulevard & Collins Avenue through communities such as Miami Beach, Miami Shores, Sunny Isles, Surfside & Hallandale. you will find such dencity that it will rival the “Gold Coast” in Bergen & Hudson counties.

    Also there are an enormous number of unsold housing units there, I wonder if Tampa is on the same cruze ship.

  8. So excited to finally see a Tampa area mall featured here! Would love to see write-ups on some Pinellas county malls like Countryside Mall, Tyrone Square Mall, or some of the defunct malls like Sunshine Mall or Clearwater Mall!

  9. @Prange Way, Lake Fair Mall would’ve been practically across the Interstate from Brandon Town Center. But both were new, and the upscale Florida market is different than the Cincinnati blue-collar area where Forest Fair was.

  10. Thanks for the post! I have always wondered what this mall looked like.. I was also on “The Parent Trap 2.”

  11. @SEAN, I actually have never been south of Tampa-St Petersburg in Florida (can’t get away from Central Florida/Orlando, LOL). The growth in Florida, especially in the I-4 Corridor amazes me! They’ve also done a good job in keeping up the roadways…Central Florida Greenway has helped to divert a lot of traffic off the Beach Line, and in Tampa, I-275 got a fix and the Suncoast Parkway alleviated traffic all over.

    The growth has allowed Orlando and Tampa to support high-end retail. Too bad Tampa Bay Center didn’t catch on.

    Although both Tampa and Orlando with the economic situation we’re in do have some unsold housing, as well as a high number of foreclosures.

  12. @mallguy, Oh I see, I know a couple who moved to Wesley Chapple from White Plains a few years ago & they love it.

    If you get a chance take a trip to Aventura Mall. It’s almost the size of King of Prussia Plaza. I haven’t been there since 1988 & the mall was doubled in size since then. It is the only mall to feature both Cheesecake Factory & Grandlux under the same roof & that really makes me hungry. LOL

    I would like to see posts on the other Tampa area malls like Westshore Plaza & International plaza, this way you can see how the metro area developed into the market that it is today.

  13. The Arizona Republic

    Upscale furniture retailer Robb & Stucky, a top player in the Valley’s interior design arena for 20 years, will liquidate its inventory and close, according to a plan approved Tuesday by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Tampa, Fla.

    The company operates a showroom at 15440 N. Scottsdale Road in Scottsdale and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last month.

    The company was unable to come up with viable plan for continuing in business, though, and on Tuesday the Bankruptcy Court approved the sale of the business to a liquidation company for $30 million.

    The buyer, Hudson Capital Partners, plans to shortly start liquidation sales at the stores as soon as the deal closes. The stores could close for good by summer.

    The deal makes no provision for returning some $10 million in deposits to thousands of customers who bought furniture from Robb & Stucky before the bankruptcy filing.

    A Robb & Stucky spokesman said customers can file a claim with the bankruptcy court or work with their credit card companies to erase the charges.

    The Florida-based company currently operates 15 stores in Arizona, Florida, Texas and Nevada and has about 750 employees.

    Correct me if I am wrong, aren’t they Tampa based?

  14. @SEAN, Not sure, but they are located in International Plaza, in part of the former Lord & Taylor. Had no idea they were considered “upscale”…always wondered why Taubman/International Plaza couldn’t get Macy’s or Bloomingdale’s in there.

  15. @SEAN, I’ve been to International Plaza before…very impressive mall! As far as I see it, this was the final blow to Tampa Bay Center. Tampa International Airport is literally behind it, and it’s right around the corner from Raymond James Stadium.

    Mall at Millenia is currently my favorite mall in Central FL and that is one place I’d love to see profiled on here!

    Will have to check out Aventura Mall if I ever make my way to South Florida.

  16. @mallguy, I forgot all about Mall at Milenia. I agree another good mall to profile, even though it’s still rather young in retail terms. I just wonder why it took so long for Tampa to as well as Orlando to get the high end retailers that Miami & Atlanta have had for years. Hell even Las Vegas had some of those stores before Tampa.

  17. @mallguy, FYI The condos at City Center Las Vegas contracted their furniture sales with Rob & Stucky. Acording to one of the sales staff I spoke too, there were rumors of the LV store closing as recently as last October & now the whole company is going under.

    Yes they were considered to be upscale, but I found a lot of there items to be overdone & pricy. Personally I like Crate & Barrel.

  18. @SEAN, The Mall at Millenia has a great mix of stores and restaurants is architecturally stunning! I visited around the holidays and their Christmas decorations are also rather impressive. It may be young, but its successes have built up the whole area around it with new condos and retail establishments. (Millenia is about 3 exits northeast of Universal on I-4)

    I find it interesting that the first high end retailer to open in Orlando and Tampa was Saks Fifth Avenue (at the Florida Mall and Westshore Plaza) When Taubman saw Saks’s successes, along with the incredible population growth in the I-4 Corridor, they built upscale malls of their own in both citiies (International Plaza and Millenia). And in Orlando, when Millenia was announced, Florida Mall expanded with Nordstrom and Burdine’s (now Macy’s) to compete with Millenia.

  19. @mallguy, And when Taubman comes to town you know it can mean only one thing, you better be at your best in every way & be ready to fight for every customer & new retailing concept out there. If you are not prepared, you will end up like Tampa Bay Center.

    Think in terms of The Yankees, Lakers & quite recently the JETS.

  20. @SEAN, Crate and Barrel is a great store. Maybe they’re smart to not over-expand. Only 3 in NJ so far.

  21. @SEAN, I think Taubman are the ones we can thank for bringing high end retail to Tampa and Orlando! And in Orlando, it won’t be too long until Festival Bay Mall will be the next Tampa Bay Center.

  22. Of course I never had the pleasure of visiting this mall, but I have to say that I rather liked the ‘Tron’-effect ceilings in the food court. What a shame that this one has gone the way of the dodo…

  23. Prange Way,
    Hello, I just found this page while searching for info about Tampa Stadium. I’m even more delighted to find this instead. I’m Dan of Tampapix.com, the site you kindly recommend above. I would very much like to place some of your photos on my Tampa Bay Center history web page, with credit to you and link to this page. Is that ok? You have the best photos I’ve seen on the web so far, thanks for sharing them. –Dan-O

  24. This mall could be the (nearly) identical twin to the Governor’s Square Mall in Tallahassee. The anchors were similar, but with a Maas Brothers instead of a Burdines originally. Was this ever a GGP mall? The ceiling grid, entrance, floors, fountain with steps, and floors are identical. The sears even looks the same!!

  25. @Steven Swain,

    Almost a carbon copy of Rouse’s Columbia Mall, in his planned city of Columbia, MD. Same colors, railings, everything, except Columbia underwent a total reno and expansion about 10 years ago.

  26. I’ve lived in Tampa my entire life and I’m retired now, but it was during the late 1970s that I remember with the most affection. You see, it was then that I was first married, bought my first house. and started working in the field that would become my life’s work. Our house was in Seminole Heights, right off I-275, and we both worked within a few miles of the mall. So we were constantly going there for one thing or another. Our bank was there too, so on Fridays, the wife and I would meet at the mall and eat at Morrison’s. Plus, due to the fact that we were both young and without much credit, Sears and Wards extended a much-appreciated hand to people like us to help us get started. My sister loved to go partying at one of the big bars there,. so we were always meeting her there as well. So much history has been lost in Tampa since those days.. Curtis Hixon Hall.. Tampa Stadium… But Tampa Bay Center was one of the biggest losses of all fore me personally…

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