It was the Spirit of '76. Our Nation was 200 years old, scientists, doctors and the CDC were still trying to figure out what caused the deaths of 22 attendees of the American Legion convention in Philadelphia just two weeks earlier. The Presidential Campaign was abuzz with opposition talk to Pres. Ford considering John Connolly as his running mate, Jimmy Carter accused the GOP of trying to dig up dirt on him. Pope Paul VI made news when he defrocked an Italian Communist priest, Florida Power & Light announced in Miami it planned to lay off 615 employees, the Tampa Bay Rowdies had just become the NASL Champs in their inaugural year, 1975, the Bucs were perched on the precipice of infamy, and Tampa Bay Center Mall with its tall shade trees, breathtaking fountains, bridges, balconies and a sky's-the-limit ceiling, celebrated its grand opening.
The Tampa Bay Center was a shopping mall located across Himes Avenue from Tampa Stadium and across Buffalo Ave (now Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.) from Loch Raven golf course. The land was originally a vast, grassy area with some trees, used for horse stables and cattle grazing.
When it was opened in 1976 the 744,000-square-foot Tampa Bay Center was Tampa's fourth major mall, following south Tampa's Westshore Mall in 1967, north Tampa's Floriland Mall in 1972, and University Mall in 1974. TBC operated until 2001, when most of its tenants relocated to the nearby International Plaza. The mall was a two story building that had an anchor at each end, and later, one in the center of the mall: Burdines on the east side, Montgomery Ward in the center, and Sears on the west side.
Aerial photo at left from 1969 shows future site of Tampa Bay Center outlined in yellow.
Place your cursor on the photo to see the same area in 1982.
Click the photo to see the same area in 2000 and 2007.
The plan and design
|A view from the upper level of Sears, looking eastward before any stores had moved in, circa June 1976.|
|Aug. 1976, just before opening, looking east from Tampa Stadium||
Opening day, Aug. 5, 1976, looking west
with Himes Avenue across the top and Buffalo Avenue on the right.
Note Tampa Stadium at top of photo and Loch Raven golf course on the right side of Buffalo Avenue below Himes Avenue. Above Himes Ave. at upper right is Horizon Park, now Al Lopez Park. At upper left is Al Lopez Baseball stadium, now the site of Raymond James Stadium.
December, 1979 photo above shows construction of Montgomery Wards in progress on the south side of the mall, upper right of photo, darker structure.
|A third anchor store, Montgomery Ward was
proposed in 1977. Construction began in 1979 on
the south side of the mall and was completed in 1980; the Wards at N. Dale Mabry and I-275
next to Kash n' Karry closed.
|Tampa Bay Center was unique in a number of ways. It was the only two-story mall in Tampa, and unlike the other malls at the time, Tampa Bay Center's main corridor was bathed in sunlight. A large portion of the roof was constructed with skylights, so a bright and sunny day outdoors meant a bright and sunny day indoors. It was considered to be an inviting feature at a time when many malls were being built with dropped ceilings and finished with darker colors. The mall featured exposed, light-colored truss ceilings over the main corridor, tan-brown floor tiles, floor-based water fountains, and trees intermittently planted on the bottom floor of the main corridor, growing upwards toward the skylights. The open-and-airy interior was further enhanced by what was thought to be one of the mall's most important trademarks, a glass elevator located in the center of the mall. (Seen just to the left of the Burdines sign.)||
north parking lot had an unusual for-flat-central-Florida slope to it
that meant that the mall entrance on that side of the building was on the
second floor, leading directly into the food court.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers first played in the NFL in 1976, the same year as Tampa Bay Center opened, and not only helped bring plenty of shoppers to the mall on Sundays, but plenty of cars, too. Though the Buccaneers had plenty of losing seasons, it seems parking was always scarce, and Sundays in the autumn meant cars at the mall's parking lot. Home games played during the Christmas shopping season made finding a place to park the car at the mall all the more difficult.
When Tampa Bay Center first opened, it featured two anchor stores: Sears-Roebuck and Burdines. Sears was located on the western end of the mall, and Burdines' store was on the east end. The corridor ran the equivalent of a few city blocks and, with two stories of shopping floor, contained several dozen stores. There was also a two-screen movie theater on the first floor from the beginning until it closed on February 28, 1990. The final movies shown were Roger and Me and Stella.
Around 1987, one of the area's then-largest food courts, opened on the second floor near the Buffalo Avenue entrance. See Tampa Bay Food Courts, 1994
Right: Merry Go Round, Bathtique, Bonnie & Clyde, Hallmark Cards, -, Hickory Farms
The Joppa, Md., company announced in Feb. of 1996 it was closing its 536 stores nationwide under the names Merry-Go-Round, DeJaiz and Cignal. It also owned the Chess King chain, which it began eliminating Jan. 1. Merry-Go-Round shops in Countryside Mall and Tampa Bay Center had already shut their doors.
Ladies of Tampa Bay Opinion Mart
From mystery colas to upcoming movie trailers, if you had an opinion, these ladies wanted to know! The Tampa Bay Opinion Mart, a.k.a. "TBOM" was a market research company located at the Tampa Bay Center mall in the late 1970s. "Hello, are you age 18 to 24? Yes?" Follow the lady through the corridor to a private booth and answer some questions, maybe take a taste test or see a video. "Would you be very likely to buy this product, somewhat likely, maybe likely, somewhat not likely, or definitely not likely?" So many choices! Often, a sizeable remuneration such as $3 to $10 or a discount coupon would be your reward. As a consumer, your opinion was always welcomed.
This 1980 magazine ad shows how Tampa Bay Center took advantage of the Tampa Stadium football games to lure thousands of potential shoppers to the mall.
|The glass elevator at Tampa Bay Center
mall. Dec. 28, 1976
St. Pete Times Evening Independent photo by Tony Lopez
Bay Center was THE place to shop during its prime. Its central
location in Tampa allowed Tampa Bay Center to enjoy consistently large
crowds. The Christmas season at Tampa brought choir groups to sing at the
mall, Santa Claus, and plenty of joyous and wintry decorations. Around
1990, the mall brought in a double-decker, vintage carousel, which was
located at the center of the mall on the first floor.
Tampa Bay Center in the News
In July of 1983, Tampa Bay Center took on a retail car dealership for a tenant. Across from Ruby Tuesday's restaurant and only a few feet from Havana Village sat Bill Currie Ford Center. Though the idea wasn't new, it's was the first auto dealership in the state to locate in a mall. "We're taking our cars to the public," said Kess Evans, vice president and general manager of Tampa's Bill Currie Ford.
December of 1985, a gunman slammed a Burdines shopper to the floor in the
menswear department and held him hostage. The gunman soon freed the
shopper and surrendered to the authorities without further incident.
In 1993, the mall's attempt to keep its indoor air smoke-free had a smokers' advocacy group burning. About 10 members of Smokers' Rights Alliance picketed outside Tampa Bay Center on Aug. 28th to protest what they call unfair treatment by mall management. The group said the mall's policy discriminated against smokers because it allowed smoking in only two places: a mall restaurant and a tobacco store. Everywhere else, they say, lighting up was forbidden. In December of 1993, teen tennis sensation Jennifer Capriati was given a citation for walking away from a mall kiosk while wearing a $15 ring she had tried on. Capriati, who was 17 at the time, and the world's 9th ranked women's tennis player, was wearing several of her own rings at the time and inadvertently walked off wearing one she had tried on. When stopped after she and her friends had left the booth, she discovered she was still wearing the ring and returned it. The citation carried no civil or criminal penalties.
In January of 1991, the mall took advantage of Super Bowl XXV in Tampa and turned their prime location into profits with weekend-long festivities, concerts, contests and shows. "Super Host Village" was set up in the mall's northwest overflow lot, where the game was broadcast on a giant screen TV, along with music, a laser-light show, football movies, sports stars signing autographs, merchandise and memorabilia.
In July of 1998, a transformer exploded in the southwest mechanical room, starting a fire which prompted an evacuation of the mall, according to Tampa native and Tampa Bay Center's first maintenance technician Rick T. Parnell.
mall boasted the first big food court in the region. It touted one of the
first two Burdines in the Tampa Bay area. Rouse, which also developed
Quincy Market in Boston and Harbourplace in Baltimore, injected some of
the same novelty into Tampa Bay Center. The mall featured some of the
first local pushcart kiosks, had a program to help local merchants grow
into chain operations and once featured a historic carousel.
1977 view of lower and upper levels
TBC's Declining Years
A pattern of shifting demographics, the opening of new shopping destinations, and bankruptcies that hit some stores, including one of the anchors, led to the demise of TBC. This trend had been occurring throughout the 1990s, but had become especially pronounced as the decade moved on. However, with a mall full of stores and all three anchor buildings occupied with big-name retailers, the mall still looked and felt healthy.
In June of 1998, Burdines announced it would close its Tampa Bay Center store early the next year, just before it opened a store in the new Citrus Park Town Center 10 miles away. The chain already had stores in Tampa at University Mall and at West Shore Plaza. The new store in Citrus Park Town Center was scheduled to open in March of 1999. "We are going to work to replace Burdines with a similar-type department store," said Tampa Bay Center general manager Chuck Crerand. The success of that effort would be crucial because anchor stores are the traffic generators needed to draw shoppers who support all the other stores in a mall.
Citrus Park, a rural
outpost in northwestern Hillsborough County as recently as the early to
mid 1980s, had found itself amid tremendous growth by the 1990s. Citrus
Park Mall, now called Westfield Shoppingtown Citrus Park, opened in 1999
and took the Tampa Bay Center Burdines location in. With the Burdines
anchor gone, Tampa Bay Center began reeling from the loss of a major store
and a troubling trend: those visiting the mall were not necessarily buying
anything. Neighborhoods nearby Tampa Bay Center were changing as many of
the longtime residents were aging or moving to neighborhoods further from
Tampa Bay Center.
Low rents kept only a dwindling core of stores in Tampa Bay Center, and shoppers no longer were drawn to the once-magnetic shopping destination. Working on month-to-month leases since July of 2001, the few remaining tenants had dwindled to two. After Sears, Roebuck and Co. signed a deal to move to nearby WestShore Plaza by the next fall, Rouse was freed from legal obligations to maintain the rest of the 892,000 square feet as a regional mall. In the final week of Jan. 2002, security teams roped off most of Tampa Bay Center's leafy atrium, forcing the last dozen regular mall walkers to go elsewhere.
start of 2002, International Plaza had opened, stores were leaving en
masse from Tampa Bay Center, and Sears, the last remaining anchor (and
one of the last stores, period, to remain at the mall by that time)
announced it would be moving to Westshore Mall in the South
Tampa/Westshore area of Tampa. Westshore Mall, by 2002, not only
experienced massive renovations leaving the mall almost unrecognizable
from its former self, it had survived the mall wars of Tampa--even
fending off competition from International Plaza barely more than up the
street to the north.
A deserted food court in the later years
- May 2001
The final years--Sears was the last to go
- May 2001
Lots of vacant spaces on the directory and only one anchor store shown, Sears at far right of floor plan
- May 2001
north entrance on the Burdines end of the mall
- May 2001
|The parking lot
was purposely built up in a hill so that you entered on the 2nd level.
- May 2001
These six great photos were posted by Prange Way at Labelscar.com, a retail history blog.
|Tampa Bay Center Directory, circa 1998
Courtesy of Anthony Ahmar
See numerically sorted list after the image of
the directory below.
Twenty-five locations were not listed and presumed vacant.
Numerical listing by location
Jos. A. Banks
101 Rack Room Shoes
102 No listing
103 No listing
104 Jan's Hallmark
105 Kay Bee Toys
106 Lady Footlocker
107 Radio Shack
108 Spencer Gifts
109 Scribbles & Giggles
111 Things Remembered
113 Paul Harris
114 Frederick's of Hollywod
115 The Picture Show
116 The Body Shop
117 No listing
118 Littman's Jewlers
120 Victoria's Secret
121 Casual Corner
123 Bombay Company
124 No listing
126 Wet Seal
127 Foot Action
128 No listing
129 Curio Arts
130 Light Curve
131 County Seat
133 Bentley's Luggage
134 Gina's Hair
135 Trade Secret
136 Express Shoe Repair
137 No listing
138 Tilt Family Entertainment Center
139 No listing
140 No listing
141 Bath & Body Works
142 The Limited
143 Stride Rite
144 Size 5 7 9
145 Tampa Bay Opinion Mart
146 No listing
148 H. Zachary
149 No listing
150 No listing
152 Sunglass Hut lower level
153 No listing
154 Village Goldsmith
155 Camelot Music
156 No listing
159 Selena's Daycare
160 Suncoast Motion Picture Co
161 Going to the Game
162 Payless Shoes
163 No listing
164 No listing
165 No listing
166 Alessi Bakery
167 American Carousel
201 Foot Locker
202 Wild Pair
203 Prints Plus
204 Doktor Pet Center
205 General Nutrition Center
206 No listing
207 Barnie's Coffee & Tea
208 Original Cookie Co.
209 Taco Bell
210 Yogurt & Ice Cream Fantasia
211 Nature's Table
212 Manchu Wok
214 Sakkio Japan
216 Villa Pizza
217 Great Wraps
218 Big Easy Cajun
220 Sbarro Italian Eatery
221 Steak Escape
222 Auntie Anne's
223 No listing
223 Customer Service Center
224 Dental Health Services
225 Florsheim Shoes
227 Contempo Casuals
229 No listing
230 No listing
231 Sanrio Surprises
232 No listing
233 Father & Son Shoes
234 Ritz Camera
235 Accessory Lady
236 Flowers by Nick
237 No listing
239 Sew Fast
240 Socks & Knots
241 Connie Shoes
242 Petite Sophisticate
243 Champs Sports
245 Blockbuster Games
246 United Artists Salon
247 Lane Bryant
248 Software Etc
249 No listing
250 B. Dalton Bookseller
251 Athlete's Foot
252 Zeidler & Zeidler
253 Smoke & Snuff
254 J. Riggings
255 Caren Charles Plus
256 Body Shop
258 No listing
259 What A World
260 Pacific Sunwear of California
262 Remington Shavers & Knives
263 Select Comfort
264 Del Rio
265 Whitefire, Ltd
266 Sunglass Hut upper level
267 Friedman's Jewlers
269 The News Stand
271 San Francisco Music Box
272 Designs by Levi
274 Lerner New York
275 Gingiss Formalwear
|The Eagle Visits
Tampa Bay Center, early 2000
From Emil Assily's "The Emil Show", formerly on public access TV at TBCN.
Someone wearing an eagle costume is escorted through the mall and video taped. Lots of shopper and shop employee reactions. Great view of the arcade, the glass elevator, various shops and kiosks, a photo booth, and a mall cop tossing them out--"That bird is not allowed in here! Get him outta here!", KayBee Toys, and the vintage carousel.
|The following list of shops appears courtesy of
visitors to this site who have submitted their memories of places at
closure of Tampa Bay Center and its eventual demolition marked the end of
an era for Tampa, but the mall lives on in memories and, in a small
way, at the Sears at Westshore Mall. Sears installed a "glass" elevator in
its Westshore store that, in many respects, resembles the popular feature
at Tampa Bay Center.
One Buccaneer Place looking southwest from above the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and MacDill Avenue.
The buildings that comprise the facility actually sit on what is approximately one-fourth of the former Tampa Bay Center property. At the upper right can be seen the parking area used for tailgating at Bucs games, Raymond James Stadium, and to the right of it, the former site of Tampa Stadium.
Burdines in abandonment, from Deadmalls.com
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