DeSoto Square Mall

During the past two years only one mall has been built or has opened anywhere within the entire United States. The new University Town Center mall in Sarasota Florida.

The State of Florida, recognizing what supporting this mall means to Florida, has applied its brand new design for a uniquely improved interstate intersection to the overpass bridge and ramps that lead from I-75 to Sarasota’s new mall. And only at this one Florida interstate intersection. No where else.

Barely a few short miles away, DeSoto Square Mall in Bradenton sits nearly empty. And looks like its about to close.

One of the reasons for DeSoto Square’s decline is because Macy’s, a major anchor in any mall, chose to vacate DeSoto Square for the newer University Town Center. Presumably believing that Sarasota’s new mall would attract patrons of all ages, particularly of a more youthful age group. Including those who would drive a great distance to Sarasota both from north and south I-75. That has not been the case. Sarasota’s new mall has been defeated in providing this to Macy’s, or any of its stores, by its very design, and, by its general vendor type. UTC’s appearance, and, nearly all of the stores renting inside, singularly attract a much more older clientele of a wealthier financial strata. Very few ‘youth’ either local or from a distance visit Sarasota’s new mall. Very few of the stores inside University Town Center cater to the youth or even to families in general. A significant number of the smaller sized store spaces were acquired ‘doubled’ and are filled with expensive interior furnishings, or other ’non fashion’ items. There is very little inside Sarasota’s new mall – few stores, no food court, no movie theater, little else, to generally attract younger people, or families. ‘Youth’ and ‘families’ being the biggest spending segments of our or of any society, not enticing this patronage can truly impact the revenue of any mall. The wealthy segment of society no matter what city they live in are smaller in numbers. And they have very real alternatives with respect to where they spend their money, including ‘online’, which is often much more convenient and far less expensive, both of which even the wealthier set care about. This makes University Town Center very limited, and even potentially very weak, in its retail focus and marketing. University Town Center’s design and its type of retail has severely diminished it as a general commercial success.

This leaves a rare opportunity for DeSoto Square Mall that Macy’s failed to foresee or predict when it chose to leave. That DeSoto Square Mall has the market potential of being a much better location for its store type. DeSoto Square Mall has the incredible potential of being able to cater to a much broader segment of society than University Town Center can or will. By its location, design and layout Bradenton’s DeSoto mall can easily cater to what Florida’s newest and nearest mall does not do. Bring in entire families of all ages, attract patrons of all economic levels, and welcome shoppers of all races. But especially the ‘youth’. Again, one of the biggest spending segments of any society. The amount of spending being what can make or break a retail commercial, as well as entertainment and dining, location.

In all of the total Bradenton Florida area, to north Manatee County, east Manatee, even extending south through most of Sarasota, as well as into much of the southern part of Tampa Bay – a general radius that starts at DeSoto Square and extends out at least twenty miles or more in all directions, there is no comprehensive shopping, dining and entertainment experience anywhere that caters to this broad segment of society. That attracts what is very much ‘the’ spending crowd.

DeSoto Square Mall has the potential of being an amazing success.

It’s clean. It’s basically quite attractive on the inside. It offers a lot. Including a nicely laid out space, a very decent food court area, a movie theater, as well as lots of parking. And, it is close to numerous multiple types of neighborhoods filled with people and families of all ages who are looking for a place to shop, to eat, to play, to have fun.

So why doesn’t DeSoto Square Mall ‘work’?

There are a few basic reasons, including the general ‘demise’ of the U.S. shopping mall. The recent economic earthquake experienced in the United States, that extended around the world which started ten years ago, has devastated the U.S. economy, The U.S. has not yet fully recovered from this. Macy’s, for example, announced just this past month that they will be closing ‘100’ of their stores.

But even more specifically, DeSoto Mall lacks a significant feature which is absolutely necessary to make any mall successful. By not having major stores located at all of its ‘ends’ there is nothing that will draw pedestrians through the mall’s corridors past the smaller stores. This is critical. Without these large draws, the smaller stores fold. Which they have.

But even more, it is my personal, and professional, opinion that our local DeSoto Square Mall has a unique problem which has truly hurt this mall from its very start – all the way back to 1973 when our local mall first opened its doors. Our mall is ‘invisible’. Unless you are a long time Bradenton resident, how would you know a mall is even there? When you drive by it, is our mall even noticeable? Or do you ‘blink’ and miss it, and drive right by it?

Instead of trying to just simply fill our old mall with some of the same old types of stores, the present owner and manager of this mall, as well as our local government, should close their eyes for a moment and ‘re-think’ our mall. Not see our mall as it is today or has been in the past. Instead, try to re-imagine DeSoto Square Mall as a new, unique and very real ‘destination’. A place where people from as far away as twenty miles or more in all directions will want to visit in order to enjoy a wonderfully new total experience. A setting that will entice people to want to get into their cars, trucks and SUVs and consider our mall as a place where they really want to go.

I sincerely believe this can be achieved with a few design enhancements, which I offer as follows:

NEW EXTERIOR SIGNS

The current existing outdoor signs are not that attractive:

I would recommend new outdoor signage that is far more appealing:

I would also recommend more vibrant signs for at night:

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CHANGING THE FACADE

The current existing facade is a bit bland. It is also difficult when looking at the total building to determine where the entrances are located.

I would recommend architecturally enhancing the overall facade:

And making the entrances more clear and attractive:

We who live in the Bradenton area love the weather. Except when its too hot or raining. I would recommend that ‘porte cocheres’ be installed above the entrances:

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Once inside, DeSoto Square Mall already offers a number of rather nice features, including a movie theater, a decent sized food court, and a generally very nice and easy overall design layout. However, it is my sincere opinion that much of this can be enhanced and made even more attractive.

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MOVIE THEATER

In addition to improving the movie theater’s speaker system and film resolution, I would also make the following recommendations:

MAKE THE LOBBY CONCESSIONS MORE SELF-SERVE

People have been polled that they prefer to be able to make more self-choices, which is partly why buying online has been surpassing driving to go out shopping. DeSoto mall should offer inside its theater lobby what smaller strip malls and even gas stations have already appreciated that the public wants:

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THEMED MOVIE THEATERS

Having a movie theater is a wonderful amenity. 

However, there already exist numerous movie theaters in our area which compete with each other by offering the latest releases. They also compete with extremely high ticket prices and the ‘same old’ concession products that they must charge a lot of money for in order to pay for their showing the latest films.

I would recommend that the movie theaters inside DeSoto mall should start showing older movies – not new – of a ‘themed’ nature, in designed settings which reflect these themes. Showing older films will cost the theater and the mall next to nothing to rent. Several different films of the same theme can be shown inside each theater each day or evening. These ‘themed’ movies and theaters can become an ‘event’, an experience. And the ticket price for seeing even multiple movies in one sitting can be reduced to a very low amount, which will further attract people to the DeSoto mall.

FILM NOIR

One suggestion for a ‘themed’ theater experience can be older murder mysteries and suspense films. For “Film Noir” the interior of the theater can even be painted in shades of gray while displaying posters from that era.

CHILDREN’S THEATER

A theater just for children, which shows one classic children’s movie after the other, would not only attract families to the theater, but would become a welcome solution for mothers and parents as a temporary ‘baby sitting’ feature that would allow adults to shop while their children are being entertained in a safe fun environment.

Full sized 3-dimensional replicas of favorite children’s characters can be ‘seated’ inside the theater, including ‘Minions’ and ‘Muppets’.

DATE NIGHT

A third themed suggestion is for those who are looking for a romantic setting to enjoy a fun ‘date night out’ away from home.

SCI FI

Another themed theater recommendation is for teens and young adults seeking a more imaginative movie experience:

These movie theaters with their ‘themed’ settings will be truly unique – liking nothing anywhere. They could, if done successfully, even become quite famous – in design magazines and media reviews, as well as retail publications that monitor changes in commercial offerings.

Even more, in today’s world where the internet is becoming pre-eminent and live video feeds are becoming the norm, an audience inside these theaters could, in addition to watching movies, become part of ‘the show’ – something that is itself being watched as they are ‘broadcasted’ around the country, or even around the world. An audience inside these uniquely designed settings could participate as a group that is being monitored while watching and reacting to a political debate, an episode from ‘The Bachelor’, or a space liftoff on Florida’s east coast. 

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TEEN HANGOUT

Many communities everywhere overlook one of the largest, and largest spending, segments of society, who themselves are often looking for a fun, safe and social place to ‘hang out’:  Teenagers.  I would recommend converting one outlet space into a social setting which offers beverages, snacks, seating, music, interactive games and wifi just for teenagers:

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CHILDREN’S AREA

In the same vein, I would recommend that an outlet space also feature an environment that is very attractive, and even welcomingly exhausting, to very young children:

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GYM

And, for adults, a similar offering. One that has been polled as being very popular in shopping malls that are being successfully re-designed:

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FOOD COURT

In addition to the typical fair that mall food courts offer everywhere, I would suggest some variation, including a ‘country buffet’, ‘natural’ food, or a frozen yogurt bar:

To further enhance the dining experience, I would recommend that DeSoto Square Mall offer cooking demonstrations in the food court area:

And perhaps display large television monitors on the walls that show – with low volume – the ‘Cooking Channel’, vintage ‘fifties’ b&w videos of families gathering around the dinner table or at bar-b-q’s, or classic movies that are all about cooking and eating.

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UTILIZING A MAJOR SPACE FOR SPECIAL EVENTS

One of my most strongest recommendations is for DeSoto Square Mall to feature a unique space that can host multiple special events.

There is nothing like what I am recommending ‘anywhere’ in our area. It is something that is desired by people all of the time everywhere. A unique combination of space that can host meetings, receptions, proms, quinces, pageants, weddings, dances, private events, and so much more:

Perhaps even the occasional ‘murder mastery’:

Or the occasion to enjoy some British ‘High Tea’:

Another ‘special event’ might be ComicCon, where the mall corridors can be filled with trading booths, the large event space can host lectures and autograph signings, and the movie theater – especially with its new themed designs – can feature first run showings of brand new movies and television shows. This could also extend to include Sarasota’s Film Society:

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Other offerings that are being recommended as shopping malls are being re-designed is a smaller grocery food store where people can buy that essential grocery item before leaving the mall and heading home. With Walmart now offering their smaller ‘Markets’ it might be prudent to ask Walmart to build one of their smaller stores that focuses strictly on groceries adjacent or attached as a part of DeSoto mall.

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In keeping with the recommendation that DeSoto Square Mall should be considered ‘the destination’ I would also urge the following changes to its exterior layout.

The retail stores that currently face Cortez Road but have their ‘backs’ to DeSoto mall, including ‘Toys-R-Us’, ‘Denny’s, and the ‘GMC’ dealership, should expand their orientation. The foliage, fences, ditches (etc) that separate each of these from DeSoto mall’s parking should be removed, entrance drives should run from DeSoto’s parking to each of these, and have each add a new ‘front’ facade on each of their ‘rear’ walls in order to increase their presence to those shopping at the mall:

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There should also be more quality restaurants in the empty spaces between the mall’s parking and the adjacent roads. Again, DeSoto Square Mall should be considered as a ‘destination’ for everyone living in the Bradenton area and beyond.

Making many or most of these changes will not only bring our very much missed local mall back to life, it will significantly improve the local economy, make living in the Bradenton area much more fun and enjoyable, and will most assuredly start to improve the neighborhoods that surround this mall.

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© Hans Carl Clausen
President & Director
Captured On Film Productions Inc

A non-profit corporation expressly formed to educate and to inspire.

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6 thoughts on “DeSoto Square Mall

  1. I absolutely love the concepts put forth. When the mall was built originally in 1973 the proposed name was Bradenton Mall. The city shot it down because the mall wasn’t located in the city limits. I would like to revisit the name. I believe Bradenton Mall is more conducive to what and where the mall serves.

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    • Thank you for your kind words and historic information.

      My hope was to offer a few unique suggestions that might bring our local mall back to life. – which would in turn help make our little town a nicer place for all of us to live than it already is.

      Not by imitating other malls, or even how our mall used to be. That concept for a shopping mall seems to be fading everywhere.

      I felt ‘something new’ was needed. A new design, a new environment, that would offer an appealing place where we who love living in Bradenton would wish to go. I sincerely believe that we all want to have a local setting that offers this – a nice safe fun indoor place for us to enjoy locally.

      If this could work, my suggestions, with others expanding on them, and our local mall becomes both popular and financially successful – while other malls across the country are literally ‘dying’, our town could conceivably become quite famous as ‘the little engine that could’.

      Thank you again for your comments.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. When I arrived in this area in the mid-1970s, DeSoto Mall was a primary destination point for my wife and myself (and later our family), and we lived on St. Armand’s in Sarasota. Anyone who remembers the vibrancy of that mall—or feels underserved by the experiences at box stores and limited-option malls—should be able to respond to Mr. Model’s insight and his projections of what could be a transformative environment. I especially appreciate his comments regarding the movie theater space.

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  3. Wow, really great ideas! It is such a special location, the potential is limitless. Love the visuals, partnered with some really good stores, restaurants and entertainment it would be a huge boost to the area. Thank you for your well thought out plan, I hope the right investors are listening!!

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