Special to South Florida Times
WEST PALM BEACH — South Florida soon will bid adieu, finally, to the aged and nearly vacant Palm Beach Mall. Located on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard and adjacent to the east side of Interstate 95 in West Palm Beach, it was the first fully enclosed, climate-controlled mall developed in Florida.
Developers Steven Karp of New England Development and Eastern Real Estate/Lubert-Adler say they will begin with the removal of asbestos and lead paint in early April.
That will be followed by demolition of the 32-acre, 1.08 million square-foot property — except for the last two holdouts, George’s Music and JCPenney, which, in addition to the Firestone tire service outparcel, are to remain as part of a new development.
For many South Floridians and snowbirds who wax nostalgic or have mixed feelings about the mall’s departure into oblivion, memories abound.
Originally built and opened in 1967, the developer, Edward J. DeBartolo Corporation, bragged that the mall was the largest in all of the southeastern U.S.
Renovations and expansion took place in 1980 with JCPenney as the anchor tenant. Several other big-name stores moved in, such as Lord & Taylor and Sears. In 1987 a food court was added. In 2000, another renovation took place, with a redesign of the food court and installation of interior fixtures, including a centerpiece fountain.
But the 1999 murder of an 18-year-old manager at a food court chicken restaurant became a sign of decline and harbinger of more bad news. The crime affected traffic to the mall, which, in turn, affected sales.
The facility also had to face stiff competition, such as CityPlace, which opened in 2000, and the Wellington Mall — where Lord & Taylor relocated — which opened in 2001, as well as try to cope with the real estate crash and subsequent economic recession, along with a decline in area employment, tourism and household income.
Several large department stores closed and, in March 2009, the mall began operating on reduced hours.
Despite a foreclosure suit threatening the mall’s ownership, it was reported that then owners The Simon Property Group would try to revitalize the property but that did not happen. A court receiver seized control of the mall, appointed a management agent and pursued a sale to a new owner, New England Development, a Massachusetts-based real estate firm that partnered with Eastern Real Estate and Lubert-Adler to buy the mall in October 2011 for $35.5 million.
The new owners proposed an outlet-type fashion center featuring open-air retail center which may include shopping and/or dining.
Photo: C.B. HANIF/SOUTH FLORIDA TIMES
MAJOR DEMOLITION COMING: The developer's plan is for the Palm Beach Mall to reopen next year as the Palm Beach Fashion Center.