Sears at Boca’s Town Center could become hub like Delray Marketplace

The big-box Sears at Town Center at Boca Raton that shut its doors earlier this year could soon become an open-air shopping and entertainment complex, similar to Delray Marketplace, an attorney for Sears’ owner told The Palm Beach Post.

That’s the change being sought by Sears’ landlord, Seritage Growth Properties, said Jeffrey Lynne, a Delray Beach attorney representing Seritage.

The real estate investment trust wants to convert the 151,087-square-foot store, the 23,250-square-foot auto service center adjacent to the store, and the parking lot east of the store, all of which are owned by Seritage, into an outdoor shopping complex.

“It’s their concept to build these throughout the country,” Lynne said, comparing it to Delray Marketplace, the outdoor retail-restaurant-entertainment complex in suburban Delray Beach.

They built a similar one in Aventura

Seritage broke ground recently on an outdoor shopping village that turned a Sears into a retail, dining and entertainment space along a pedestrian boulevard at Aventura Mall in Miami-Dade County.

The concept, Lynne said, follows a trend toward a sought-after mixed-use experiences, with a clustering of restaurants, shops and community-friendly entertainment like a movie theater or bowling alley — already seen in South Florida at centers like CityPlace in West Palm Beach, Delray Marketplace and the upscale Promenade at Coconut Creek in suburban Broward County.

The plan for Town Center Mall is in early stages, but Seritage and Simon Property Group, which owns the rest of the mall, took a major step in that direction Monday afternoon. Seritage and Simon requested that the Boca Raton City Council exclude the Town Center Mall from a large-scale rezoning planned for a 1-square-mile district west of Interstate 95 known as Midtown Boca Raton.

The area is home to commercial strips and plazas between St. Andrews Boulevard and Military Trail, south of Glades Road. The city plans to transform Midtown into a central Boca Raton work-live-play hub by allowing developers to erect high-rise residential buildings.

Separating Town Center from Midtown

The rezoning has been in the works for more than five years, with steady push-back from many residents who say apartment towers that close to the heavily-traveled Glades Road and Military Trail would be a traffic nightmare.

By separating Town Center Mall from the rest of Midtown Boca Raton, Seritage and Simon Property Group can move forward with plans to redevelop Sears without waiting for a city council-mandated public input plan that will delay Midtown Boca Raton zoning until at least early fall.

Simon Property Group is “very enthusiastic” about the plan to create an outdoor shopping and entertainment hub at Town Center, said Bonnie Miskel, a Boca Raton attorney representing Simon.

Malls need to change to be sustainable

“There’s an evolution occurring here today,” Miskel said of the national decline of shopping malls. “We have to face realities that big-box stores might not be sustainable. If we don’t change with them, we might not be sustainable.”

Miskel added that while malls both nationwide and locally are struggling, Town Center has been thriving.

Seritage is a publicly traded real estate investment trust that split from parent Sears in 2015. It owns more than 200 Sears properties around the nation.

Sears announced in early January that it would close the Town Center location as part of an ongoing effort to “transform” its business model.

All the while, Town Center itself is undergoing a multimillion-dollar renovation designed to keep customers flowing to the mall by offering amenities found in luxury resorts.

The redesign continues this year, as the mall is upgrading its interior to include new seating lounges with upgraded furniture and charging stations; new stone and porcelain tile floors throughout the mall; and a new boutique entrance between Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue with an “upscale valet.”

As the popularity of online shopping continues to grow, high-end malls and luxury shopping centers are trying to woo customers by creating unique experiences that can’t be replicated online, experts say.

Lynne, who also represents the Via Verde neighborhood south of Town Center, expects neighbors of the mall will welcome the outdoor complex.

“We have a healthy, vibrant community that is looking for something like this,” he said.

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