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. 

Aerial photo from 1957 shows Al Lopez baseball field at lower left, Dale Mabry Hwy at far left.  Buffalo Ave. not yet built. TBC property located at the dark area of trees and to the left.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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.
 
 
  Montgomery Ward at 1725 N. Dale Mabry, 1960.  This is now the site of Wal-Mart next to Best Buy.

 

 

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.)

   
  The 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.

   
 
The 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

 

Tampa 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.


Bathtique and Merry Go Round at upper left, Stuarts lower right, circa 1977

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.

In 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.

The mall was beset with problems as the 1990s wore on. In 1994 the mall's management was accused of racism for closing early during the Florida Classic college football game between FAMU and Bethune Cookman, both primarily African-American universities. 

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.

 

The 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.

 

 
This aerial photo shows a direct top view of Tampa Bay Center with Buffalo Avenue across the top, Himes Avenue at the left, and MacDill Avenue at the right.  Sears at the left, Burdines on the right, and Montgomery Wards extending southward in the middle.

 

 

 

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.

In 2000, news that the Montgomery Wards chain was closing all its stores hit Tampa Bay Center very hard. This meant the closing of a second (of, again, only three) anchors and the loss of a major, longtime tenant. While the hope for a mall revival is always possible when an aging mall loses anchors, hope just was not there for Tampa Bay Center, situated less than two miles away from an old golf course near Tampa International Airport that was, in 2000, already being cleared for International Plaza, a mall that would go on to become one of the region's most popular shopping malls.

 

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.

By the 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.

Sears opened in the former Dillard's Department store location on the east side of Westshore Mall, and with the store Tampa Bay Center officially closed its doors after serving Tampa shoppers for over a quarter of a century. The mall that at one point was one of Tampa area's most popular malls found itself sitting in the middle of a shifting neighborhood and unable to draw new, major tenants.

    

 


The final years, no stores, no customers - May 2001

 

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

 

 

 

The 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. 

See several more great photos and history there.

 

 

 

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     

100 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
110 Rave
111 Things Remembered
112 Pasta
113 Paul Harris
114 Frederick's of Hollywod
115 The Picture Show
116 The Body Shop
117 No listing
118 Littman's Jewlers
119 Express
120 Victoria's Secret
121 Casual Corner
122 Babbage's
123 Bombay Company
124 No listing
125 Coda
126 Wet Seal
127 Foot Action
128 No listing
129 Curio Arts
130 Light Curve
131 County Seat
132 Structure
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

 
147 No listing
148 H. Zachary
149 No listing
150 No listing
151 Topkapi
152 Sunglass Hut lower level
153 No listing
154 Village Goldsmith
155 Camelot Music
156 No listing
157 Lechters
158 Hombre
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
213 Pelayo's
214 Sakkio Japan
215 Chick-Fil-A
216 Villa Pizza
217 Great Wraps
218 Big Easy Cajun
219 Wendy's
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

 
226 Topaz
227 Contempo Casuals
228 Dolcis
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
238 LensCrafters
239 Sew Fast
240 Socks & Knots
241 Connie Shoes
242 Petite Sophisticate
243 Champs Sports
244 Afterthoughts
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
257 Gap
258 No listing
259 What A World
260 Pacific Sunwear of California
261 B-Cause
262 Remington Shavers & Knives
263 Select Comfort
264 Del Rio
265 Whitefire, Ltd
266 Sunglass Hut upper level
267 Friedman's Jewlers
268 Perfumania
269 The News Stand
270 Musicland
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 TBC mall:
 
Sears Burdines Montgomery Ward
Original Cookie Company Ye Olde Leather Shoppe Paperback Booksmith
Orange Julius Mr. Man Hannahan's
General Cinema Corp Morrison's Cafeteria Pants Towne
Chick-fil-A McCrory's Musicland
Big Top Sandwich Shop Ruby Tuesday's Brass Balloon
Merry-Go-Round Stuarts Bathtique
Bonny and Clyde Hallmark Cards Hickory Farms
Tampa Bay Opinion Mart Tracks Record Store Pearle Vision Center
Captain Mac's Restaurant in McCory's Chess King Foxy Lady
Shirt Shack Men's Room Camelot Music
KayBee Toys Radio Shack Spencer Gifts
Walden's Book Store The Krazy Greek Restaurant Pizza Villa
The Body Shoppe Taco Grande Wolf Brothers
Kay Jewlers The Athlete's Foot Brook's Fashions
Wag's Restaurant Tampa Bay Cinema Havana Village Sandwich Shop
     

 

 

 

The 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.


With Tampa Bay Center having closed its doors in 2002, it was no surprise that the Glazer family, the owners of the Buccaneers, soon purchased the mall.  They acquired it for $22.8-million in cash on December 31, 2002 to make way for a training facility for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Following a disappointing 2004 season, Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden sat inside an excavator and struck the first blow against the mall by tearing down the yard-wide aluminum exterior panels that comprised the facade of the old Burdines department store building.   Demolition was completed over the spring and summer of 2005 and the Buccaneers moved into their new facility in time for the 2006 football season. Encompassing only about half of the mall's 80-acre property, the western portion of the land was turned into a parking lot designed for stadium crowds. The Buccaneers now train in what is considered to be one of the NFL's top facilities. The HARTline bus terminal was relocated to the southwest section of the property in 2007, known as the West Tampa Transfer 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

In addition to various newspaper articles, some of the history on this page comes from AssociatedContent.com, DeadMalls.com, and Wikipedia.

If you have any photos of Tampa Bay Center, interior or exterior, that show a good general view, Tampapix would like to post them here with photo credit if desired. Please include date or approximate date of photo.   Contact me.

See Tampa Natives (an open group on Facebook) members' comments and memories of Tampa Bay Center Mall:
Newspaper ads promoting grand opening of Tampa Bay Center shopping mall, Aug. 4th & 5th, 1976

Opinion takers at Tampa Bay Opinion Mart (TBOM) market research company at Tampa Bay Center, circa 1976

Tampa Bay Center shopping mall, Himes Ave., at Buffalo Ave. (MLK Blvd.), circa1990s?

Tampa Bay Center shopping mall, exterior view, north entrance, parking, history & facts, 1979

Tampa Bay Center shopping mall, interior view, upper level, Merry Go Round, Bathtique, Bonnie & Clyde, Hallmark Greetings, 1979

Tampa Bay Center shopping mall, interior view, upper level, Buffalo Ave. at Himes, 1979

Tampa Bay Center mall, upper level view, circa 1977

Tampa Bay Center mall, upper level view from Sears before stores moved in, 1976

Tampa Bay Center Mall Discussion Topic

Tampa Bay Center seafood restaurant?? Discussion Topic

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