Developers plan to turn languishing University Mall into 'innovation village'

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Construction on the University Mall in Tampa kicked off Tuesday morning and, developers hope, will eventually reshape the property into an innovation hub.

During the first phase of the project, crews are tearing down a section of the mall to make way for a walkway. The old J.C. Penney store will be renovated into a technology and office building.

The plans also include health and fitness studios, an apartment complex, and the beautification of an adjacent lake.

"We're going to build an innovation village," said Mark Sharpe, executive director of Tampa Innovation Partnership. "We're going to build a live-work-play mixed-use development that will spark economic development and activity all around Tampa Bay and West Florida." 

The University Mall was built in 1974 and became the prime shopping spot in Tampa during the 1970's and 80's. In recent years, however, it had turned into a partially abandoned relic.

RD Management bought the property in 2014 for $29.5 million. Developers believe the proximity to USF, Moffitt Cancer Center and the VA Hospital make the property a perfect spot for this kind of project.

"This is an area with so much potential," said Tampa City Councilman Luis Viera. "Developments like this put the city and the county and our larger community on further notice of what's happening in the university and north Tampa area."

A main section of the mall will likely remain intact, with the 113 current tenants having the opportunity to stay.