DeSoto Square Mall: The Bradenton, FL Mall That Time Forgot

The Birth of DeSoto Square Mall: A New Dawn in Bradenton

In 1973, people sought exciting places to spend their hard-earned money. That’s when DeSoto Square Mall burst onto the scene in Bradenton, FL, thanks to the ingenuity of the Edward J. DeBartolo Corporation.

Initially, the mall was slated to go by Bradenton Mall. However, city officials had reservations about that name since the mall wasn’t actually within the city limits.

So, the company pivoted and rechristened it as DeSoto Square Mall. A savvy move that not only resolved the geographical issue but also added a dash of sophistication, don’t you think?

The name change from Bradenton Mall to DeSoto Square Mall was a strategic move to give the mall a unique identity.

The mall opened with anchor stores like JCPenney, Sears, and Maas Brothers. These were the big players back in the day.

Imagine walking into the mall and being greeted by the smell of fresh popcorn and the sound of laughter. It was the place to be, and it felt like a new world had opened up in Bradenton.

Moving on, the mall wasn’t just a shopping center; it was a social hub. Teenagers would hang out at the arcade while adults found solace in the various boutiques and department stores. It was a win-win for everyone.

Additionally, the mall’s strategic location at 303 301 Boulevard West made it easily accessible. You could hop off the freeway, shop, and return to the road quickly. Convenience was the name of the game.

In contrast to today’s digital age, the mall was a testament to the era of physical retail. It was a time when people enjoyed going out to shop. Ah, those were the days!

The Golden Years and Celebrity Visits: When DeSoto Square Mall Was the Star

Fast forward a few years, and the mall was thriving. It was the late ’70s, and DeSoto Square Mall was the place to be.

Even Ronald Reagan couldn’t resist its charm. That’s right, the future President of the United States visited the mall in 1976. Talk about star power!

Now, let’s talk about expansion. In 1978, the mall decided it was time to grow. The Suncoast Motel was demolished to make way for additional parking facilities. Because when you’re popular, you need room for all your fans, right?

In the years that followed, the mall continued to be a bustling hub of activity. Families would spend their weekends exploring the stores, dining at the food court, and participating in seasonal events. It was a wondrous time, and the mall was at the center of it all.

So, why was DeSoto Square Mall so special? It wasn’t just the stores or the food court; it was the experience.

The mall had a way of making you feel like you were part of something bigger. It was a community gathering spot, a place where memories were made.

DeSoto Square Mall was more than a shopping center; it was a cornerstone of the community.

DeSoto Square Mall
DeSoto Square Mall, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Changes in Retail Landscape: The Winds of Change at DeSoto Square Mall

The ’80s and ’90s brought new challenges and opportunities for DeSoto Square Mall. New stores like Belk-Lindsey in 1979 and Burdines in 1991 debuted, adding to the mall’s allure. But that’s not all.

The late ’80s saw talks about adding a food court. Finally, in April 1997, the Port O’Call food court opened its doors.

Moving on, the new millennium brought its own set of changes. Old Navy joined the mall in 2000, and Burdines rebranded to Macy’s in 2004. The mall was adapting, evolving, and doing its best to keep up with the times.

If you were looking for things to do in Bradenton, Florida, the mall was still a top choice. It was a one-stop shop for all your needs. From shopping and dining to entertainment, DeSoto Square Mall had it all.

In contrast, the retail landscape was changing rapidly. Online shopping was becoming more popular, and malls nationwide felt the heat. DeSoto Square Mall was no exception.

It was a challenging time, but the mall soldiered on, adapting and evolving to meet the needs of a new generation.

DeSoto Square Mall
DeSoto Square Mall


Maas Brothers/Burdines/Macy’s 1973–2014
Sears 1973–2019
JCPenney 1974–2020
Belk 1979–1992
Dillard’s 1992–2009
Hudson’s Furniture 2014 – …

The Impact of Economic Downturns: When the Tide Turned for DeSoto Square Mall

Ah, the Great Recession of 2008. It was a tough time for many, and DeSoto Square Mall was no exception. In 2009, several stores closed (Dillard’s, Old Navy, Waldenbooks, and Foot Locker), leaving empty spaces and a sense of loss.

But wait, there’s a silver lining! The space formerly occupied by Old Navy transformed into Saturn 5, a family entertainment center, in 2010. Talk about making lemonade out of lemons!

The transformation of Old Navy’s space into Saturn 5 was a creative way to utilize vacant retail space.

Moving on, the mall faced another challenge in May 2012 when Simon Property Group announced plans to sell it. The mall was changing hands, and uncertainty loomed large.

But as they say, when one door closes, another opens. Mason Asset Management swooped in and acquired the property in November 2012 for a cool $25 million.

In a series of blows to DeSoto Square Mall, Macy’s shuttered its doors in July 2014 to move to the Mall at University Town Center, followed by the theater’s closure a month later.

Sears Holdings spun off 235 properties, including its DeSoto Square Mall location, into a separate entity called Seritage Growth Properties in 2015 but closed in October 2018.

Additionally, the new owners had plans to revitalize the mall, but the financial struggles were far from over. In contrast to its golden years, the mall was a shadow of its former self. Yet, it held a certain nostalgic charm for those who remembered its heyday. It was a bittersweet reminder of times gone by.

DeSoto Square Mall
DeSoto Square Mall

Ownership Changes and Financial Struggles: The Rollercoaster Ride of DeSoto Square Mall

Ah, the world of business is never straightforward, is it? DeSoto Square Mall experienced its fair share of ups and downs regarding ownership.

Mason Asset Management took the reins in November 2012, shelling out $25 million for the property. You’d think with new ownership, the mall would get a fresh start, right? Well, not exactly.

New ownership doesn’t always mean a fresh start; sometimes, it’s just a change of hands in an ongoing struggle.

The mall was already grappling with financial issues, and Mason Asset Management had a tough road ahead. They had plans, they had visions, but what they didn’t have was a magic wand.

Additionally, let’s talk about bankruptcy. In a twist worthy of a daytime drama, Romspen US Master Mortgage LP finally took over the property through an online bankruptcy auction in October 2021.

Why? DeSoto Owners LLC couldn’t keep up with a loan ballooning to $21 million. Adding another layer to this intricate tale, Meyer Lebovitz, owner of DeSoto Owners LLC, had initially bought the property from Mason Asset in April 2017 for a staggering $25,500,000.

If you find it hard to keep up, you’re in good company. The ownership saga of the mall is as tangled as any TV melodrama.

The mall’s complex ownership history is a testament to its financial struggles and the challenges of retail in the modern age.

In contrast to the mall’s early years, when it was a bustling hub of activity, these ownership changes and financial struggles painted a picture of instability.

Moving on, despite the financial hurdles, the mall trudged along. It was like a fighter refusing to throw in the towel. But as we all know, every story has an ending, and DeSoto Square Mall was no exception.

DeSoto Square Mall
DeSoto Square Mall

The Final Chapter and Closure: The Sun Sets on DeSoto Square Mall

Fast forward to April 29, 2021, and the inevitable happened. DeSoto Square Mall closed its doors, leaving behind only four operating stores. It was the end of an era, and the mall that had once been a bustling hub of activity was now silent.

The closure of DeSoto Square Mall was not just the end of a shopping center, but the end of a community landmark.

DeSoto Owners LLC, the company that owned the mall, made attempts to restructure its finances. However, the mall had reached a point of no return. It was time to say goodbye.

So, what was it like on that final day? Imagine walking through the empty corridors, past closed stores and vacant spaces. It was like walking through a ghost town, a place frozen in time. Yet, the memories remained, etched in the walls and the hearts of those who had spent their days there.

Moving on, the mall’s closure left a void in the community. It was more than a place to shop; it was a place where friendships were made, where families came together, and where memories were created. And now, it was gone.

What Lies Ahead for DeSoto Square Mall: A Phoenix Rising from the Ashes?

But don’t lose hope just yet! CRJ Bradenton LLC purchased the DeSoto Square Mall property for $25.7 million in May 2022 and has big plans for its future.

Imagine luxury apartments, mixed-use spaces, and a whole new vibe. The property is set to be redeveloped into smaller 8 or 10-acre parcels, adding a fresh lease of life to the 58-acre area.

Additionally, the new owners have been working on a master plan to transform the property into an exciting mixed-use village. They’re even addressing some historic stormwater challenges in partnership with the county. So, it’s not just about buildings; it’s about creating a sustainable future.

In contrast to its past struggles, the future looks promising for the DeSoto Square Mall property. The first phase of redevelopment includes 300 residential units. So, if you’re wondering what’s next for this iconic landmark, let’s say it’s gearing up for a second act.

Comments: 2
  1. Avatar of Helen

    so excited about the new concept you are going to develop at Desoto mall. it’s a outstanding location for the type of development. welcome to Bradenton. the traffic will be an issue,it’s already a disaster.

    1. Avatar of Spencer Walsh
      Spencer Walsh (author)

      I share your excitement about the DeSoto Mall’s transformation. It’s a fantastic location for redevelopment. Let’s hope the traffic issue is managed effectively as part of the plan.

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