University Mall experiencing revitalization

New restaurants, stores, and transit
Posted at 4:43 PM, Oct 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-26 17:33:00-04

University Mall in north Tampa is showing new signs of life after a recent ownership change. 

There are still some eyesores at University Mall, though, including a shuttered department store outside and gated shops inside.

"This mall sucks to be honest with you," said Lorenzo Cecil, who lives in the area.

But local leaders are starting to change those perceptions.

"As you brighten up the area, as you create a better experience for people, crime actually goes down and the happiness goes up. And that's what we're seeing--an increase in the happiness factor here," said Mark Sharpe, executive director of the Tampa Innovation Alliance.

The Studio Movie Grille at the mall recently underwent a $7 million facelift, and two new restaurants now sit in front of the property. The mall's seen a noticeable jump in foot traffic since Portillo's and Miller's Ale House opened.

"What's going on at the mall is really exciting and looks really nice as well," said Sharpe.

And with so many other places in the area that draw tens of thousands of visitors, those working with the mall are only hoping the improvements it's making will add to that success.

Moffitt Cancer Center is one of those successful community anchors on the Fowler Avenue corridor, as part of the new Tampa Innovation Alliance, and it's playing a role in helping bring more people to University Mall.

A "pop-up" community outreach center just opened at the mall last week and has already welcomed hundreds of visitors.

"We work in this community and it's a wonderful opportunity to be able to offer direct service," said Venessa Rivera Colon, Moffitt outreach manager.

"All of us--small business, large business, are working together to make this the number one destination--we hope around the world. People will want to come here to do business but also to be entertained, and find fabulous opportunities for them to rest, relax, get some good food, and do some great work," said Sharpe.

Shoppers--are eager to see the mall makeover continue.

"I think everything should be good in there and it will bring more people to this mall," said Cecil.

Wednesday night, the Tampa Innovation alliance is expected to join community partners to announce another new service in the area. It's called HyperLINK, and will be an innovation transportation solution bringing together ride-sharing technology and public transit. Patrons will be able to have flexible vehicle locations, demand response dispatch, sign up through an app, and use a credit card with the new service. 

A statement from HART about the new initiative reads as follows:

"HART is thrilled to announce a first in the world initiative to solve our community’s challenges with innovative solutions. HART has a demonstrated history of implementing new transit technologies and initiatives to meet unique community transit needs. HART will be working with the Tampa Innovation Alliance, TECO and Tesla on a first of its kind first/last mile solutions project within the innovation district. HART is proud to work with Tesla on this initiative and move the needle forward to bring this innovative technology to our area which will be powered by TECO. We couldn’t have taken this project off the ground without the help of these important stakeholders which include TECO, The Tampa Innovation Alliance, etc. Stay tuned for future announcements of this innovative project. Once again, we’d like to thank TECO, The Tampa Innovation Alliance, Tesla and our supporters’ Nitro solutions and Roberto Torres for working with HART on moving beyond the bus."