It Takes A Village Commitment

Tampa’s Old Hyde Park Village could define marketplace “resilience.” From the get-go.

In the early 1980s, Canadian developer Amlea met considerable local resistance about shoe-horning a shopping village — with parking garages — into the upscale, history-steeped, South Tampa neighborhood. Town homes above boutique retail weren’t seen by all as the vanguard of “new urbanism.” More like the “Amleaville Horror,” to quote more vocal critics.

Eventually the Village survived — and thrived as a neighborhood amenity and regional shopping option featuring specialty retail, popular restaurants, outdoor ambience and a dearth of teenagers.

Fast forward to more recent times. The Village is now owned by Washington, D.C.-based Madison Marquette Realty Services.

In the last four years, some 3 million square feet of retail has been added to the marketplace, including International Plaza, Westfield Shoppingtown Citrus Park, Channelside, Centro Ybor, an expanded WestShore Plaza and even Baywalk in St. Petersburg. Some malls brought in retailers, such as Pottery Barn, Sharper Image and Williams-Sonoma, which eliminated the Village’s regional exclusivity. Then there was economic turbulence and the aftershocks of Sept. 11. Stalwart stores such as The Gap and Banana Republic left — as did the Cactus Club restaurant.

In the aftermath of anchor tenant Jacobson’s departure two years ago and AMC-7 Theaters last year, local Cassandras had a field day with doom-and-gloom scenarios.

Not among them: Madison Marquette.

“We are proud to be owners of the project,” says Craig Estrem, COO of Madison Marquette. “Even in the very competitive Tampa retail market, the Village stands out as the only upscale shopping destination that appeals to residents and visitors alike.”

Indeed, with the city increasingly wooing conventioneers, visitor attractions have become a key recruiting gambit. So much so that the city is helping expedite the re-routing of the (rubber-wheeled) Uptown Downtown Connector to the Village. Moreover, look for traffic-calming devices on Swann Avenue and more on-street Village parking later in the year.

According to the Village’s general manager, Pat Westerhouse, the overall strategy is one of “repositioning.” Approximately 15 per cent of the Village’s 270,000 square feet is vacant. The commitment of MM, she underscores, is one of “significant investment.”

The two biggest “repositioning” priorities have been filled, says Westerhouse. Lifestyle Family Fitness — and its 4,000 members — are now ensconced in 28,000 square feet of what was once most of Jacobson’s. Lifestyle spent more than $2.5 million in the retrofitting.

The other foot-traffic coup was Madstone Theaters, a nine-cinema chain specializing in foreign, festival and independent fare. It replaced — and upgraded — AMC.

Yet to happen — although aggressively targeted — is a gourmet market, a bookstore and additional restaurants.

Another element in the strategy is attracting unique national retailers — to add to the eclectic likes of Anthropologie, Tommy Bahama and MAC Cosmetics — and more local independents. The latter help create a “Best of Tampa” niche. It ranges from the recently relocated Kit’s Well-Heeled & Well-Dressed to the pioneering Georgette’s ladies’ shop, now in its 17th year at the Village.

“This is pedestrian friendly, open-air environment,” says WH & WD’s Kit Stewart. “It’s a tremendous atmosphere. They are specialty oriented and very supportive of my needs.”

“We never reached the alarming stage here,” explains Village General Manager Pat Westerhouse. “We’ve always seen it as a transition. And we think we’re making the right decisions. This is not just about ‘adding stores.'”

It’s also about capital investment and aggressive promoting.

Not only did Madison Marquette ante up (some $25,000) to help defray the trolley cost, but it also spruced up the landscaping, updated some facades and will make “significant architectural changes” in the months ahead, says Westerhouse.

“There isn’t a shopping area that doesn’t need a facelift periodically,” notes Georgette’s owner, Georgette Diaz. “They’re making a real effort to enhance the ambience that’s already here.”

Promotions — from concerts, arts festivals and a Saturday Farmer’s Market to carriage rides during the holidays — are all supportive of the Village marketing theme: “The Cure for the Common Mall.”

“There are a lot of malls that are lovely,” acknowledges Westerhouse. “But they’re pretty much the same inside

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