The Lakeland Square Mall is poised to become part of a national trend of replacing vacant retail spaces with hip, urban apartments.
Miami-based private equity firm, Flacks Group, plans to demolish the former Sears store at Lakeland Square and convert it into 320 apartments. Flacks Group calls itself “one of the leading investors in distressed assets and special situations worldwide.”
For many shopping centers, this retail-to-residential conversion is a solution to an existential crisis — or “mallpocalypse” — triggered by competition from online shopping. It also provides needed housing close to workplaces and services, building on the live-work-play model many young adults want.
Flacks Group is under contract with Seritage Growth Properties, which is selling the old Sears building, and hopes to close on it by mid-September, according to Jordan Desnick, the Flacks Group’s head of real estate.
“The Flacks Group felt the Lakeland Square Mall area is in need of a luxury rental community. Future residents will be … next to I-4, adjacent to the mall and steps from all the retail stores and restaurants imaginable. We feel that combination will make us a market leader in the area,” said Desnick.
The closed Sears building isn’t the only property the Flacks Group is interested in.
“Our intention is to build 300 apartments on the site. We’re now interested in the whole mall as well,” said Michael Flacks, CEO of The Flacks Group, during a phone interview. “We’re very excited about the development (but) these things don’t happen overnight. They take weeks and months.”
Flacks said he’d work with the city to see what’s best for the area, but he thinks Lakeland would benefit from making the property a mixed-use development with commercial and residential properties.
“We’re trying to consider all options,” Flacks said.
Currently, according to the Flacks Group website, the plan is to build 320 apartments where the Sears store used to be located. It closed in 2018, following the Sears Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
A site plan on the Flacks Group website shows the development would include six apartment buildings, which would house one to three bedroom apartments. The buildings would be three to four stories high, and the plan calls for 541 parking spots. The breakdown of apartments, according to the site plan, is 199 one-bedroom apartments, 106-two bedroom apartments, and 15-three bedroom apartments.
“We will be removing an empty store and replacing it with a luxury community. We hope to be able to provide our residents discounts for mall stores and restaurants. Our goal is to support the mall and bring new life into the mall with the influx of new residents,” Desnick explained.
Desnick said the amenities would include a resort style pool, cabanas, gym, yoga room, dog park and walking trails.
“Nottinghill Living apartments, which is the branding we use, tries to make apartments as affordable as possible for the area but we do not have ballpark starting rents yet,” Desnick said.
Plan will require zoning change
Teresa Maio, Lakeland’s Assistant Director of Community and Economic Development, said she has spoken with representatives of Flacks Group and said her team has reviewed their site plan and concept to redevelop the closed Sears property. She said this “concept plan review” helps guide developers on what issues they may face.
Maio said Flacks Group applied for a concept plan review on April 26 and the review was completed on May 17. She said her team advised the firm they’d have to apply for a change in zoning for the property as its current zoning doesn’t allow for a mixed-use property.
“We very much want to guide the development,” said Maio, adding that she hopes it would be designed in a way that it’s integrated into the mall property and makes it easy for residents to shop and work at the mall.
Maio said in July 2022, the owners of the old Sears store, Seritage Growth Properties, applied for a concept plan review. Their concept listed 278 units. She believes the owners submitted the plan to assist them in marketing the property.
Maio expects the Flacks Group to apply for a zoning change soon. She said it would probably be two years before construction would begin, considering the zoning change would be a three- to four-month process from the time the application is received. Then the building permits process could take another 12 to 18 months to complete.
“From the city’s perspective, we would like to see something happen on that property to reenergize the mall and provide additional housing opportunities for the residents here in Lakeland,” Maio said.
Desnick said they’re looking to start construction in the middle of 2024 and have the units move-in ready by the fall of 2025.
Maio said the mall is comprised of several different parcels and owners. She said if the mall had one developer and owner, it would be ideal, because it would make it more cohesive.
Desnick said buying the mall is a “long term goal” of Flacks Group, but independent of the Sears project.
“If it all works out, that would be great. If not, we will still do the Sears project,” Desnick said.
Several other shopping mall redevelopment projects have been happening across the country, including in Central Florida. Apartments are replacing empty department stores at the Seminole Towne Center in Sanford and at the Volusia Mall in Daytona Beach.
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