Shopping center

The former Searstown mall in Lakeland will get a makeover and expand

LAKELAND — As the once cutting-edge Searstown Mall did for Lakeland decades ago, a new retail design concept has been proposed for the Midtown property.

Planning consultant Thuy Turner says the new owners hope the Lakeland project will build on the successful project the owners have completed in Bradenton.

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It has submitted a site plan for review to add a ready building for a 27,000 square foot commercial restaurant. A panel of planners will hear Feb. 9 what Plantation’s Turner Planning Solutions, LLC consultant has in mind for a rectangular building addition in the middle of the ocean-like parking lot at 955 E Memorial Drive.

New renovations at Sears Town Mall in Lakeland Fl. Tuesday, February 1, 2022. ERNST PETERS/ THE LEDGER

Turner is leading the project through its planning stages, including working with the Lakeland Community Redevelopment Authority for infill and curb grants. Regarding the concept of the project, she said, “We’re trying to give it a more urban feel with catwalks and outdoor seating and each of our end-unit buildings will be restaurant-ready.”

“So if you’ve got a food truck and you’re willing to go brick and mortar,” the plans take that into account. Once they occupy an end unit and if the restaurant wants to expand, they can take up the next space or the plaza can add a retail store, she said.

“It’s a good way to bring in local flavors, local businesses that really want to grow their business,” she said of the plans that take into account the gradual growth of micro-businesses.

Publix store at Searstown Mall in Lakeland in the mid-1980s

In Bradenton, the group rehabilitated a former shopping center once anchored by a Winn-Dixie supermarket and since the rehabilitation it has enjoyed 90% occupancy, Turner said.

The concept, called Onoco Farmers Market, includes a farmers market with stalls similar to the Yellow Green Farmers Market Village in Hollywood as well as mom and pop clothing stores and ethnic foods such as Mexican or Honduran.

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“People pay very minimal rent for their space,” she said. “And that brings a lot of local shoppers to the neighborhood. It brings a lot of local flavor.”

“Our goal is the same for Lakeland; we’re not trying to compete with downtown,” she added. “We would like to have our own different food destination.”

Since repossessing the property, Turner said, Lakeland Place has been given a makeover with new facade treatments, a new roof, new air conditioning, remodeled bathrooms for disabled accessibility, and she’s added more tenants.

Architect's drawing of the Lakeland downtown addition currently undergoing design review by the city.

The mall owned by Hollywood’s Lakeland Town Center LLLP is shown as owning six parcels in the Polk County Real Estate Appraiser’s records along Memorial Boulevard East, Parker Street and Lakeshore Drive. A purchase transaction for the property was recorded by the appraiser on May 26, 2021 for .

In 2007, a $32 million transaction for the mall was recorded. The 2021 sale to current owners was $10.5 million, according to county property records.

The owners are Sharon Sharaby and Guy Levintin of Hollywood’s BSD Capital, LLC, according to state records.

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The Lakeland site once housed a Publix supermarket. Now, a Save A Lot supermarket occupies the space, along with a Hibachi Buffett, Cash America Pawn, a Checkers restaurant, Jacky’s Coin Laundry, Subway, and Rent A Center, among others.

Alis Drumgo, deputy director of the city’s ARC office, said the plans are preliminary and conceptual at this stage, but he hopes during the planning and development process to see how the developer plans to execute his vision. .

The city has its own vision for the trade corridor, he said.

“Sears Town has always been a center of activity that has flourished, as has the Midtown area, … as that big-box retail business has disappeared and dwindled,” Drumgo said.

“And now you’re looking at how to reuse those spaces, this downtown hub is a real opportunity to help invigorate business and reuse that space and that’s why for us, we like to support those kinds of projects where the owner is invested who has successfully pitched a concept in another area and they think they can make it happen here at Lakeland,” he added.

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This mall is a very important visual for Memorial Boulevard East traffic, Drumgo said.

New renovations at Sears Town Mall in Lakeland Fl. Tuesday, February 1, 2022. ERNST PETERS/ THE LEDGER

“Before you get out of here and go to Auburndale, this is kind of your last visual in and out of Lakeland en route to Auburndale,” he said.

Drumgo went on to say that the old motels and churches are underutilized spaces along the Memorial Boulevard corridor given the increased traffic and density levels expected over the next 10 years.

“There’s more density and opportunity along Memorial Boulevard that maybe should be taken advantage of,” he said.

Paul Nutcher covers business and industry for The Ledger. He can be contacted at [email protected]


An earlier version of this story referred to a 2017 effort to save ancient mosaics that once adorned a Publix in the Searstown Mall. This part of the story has been deleted.