OVIEDO, Fla. – Many teenagers practically lived at their local shopping malls in the early 1980s. Some of those same people could someday live at a mall again, literally, under a proposal to build apartments and a 55+ active adult residential community at the Oviedo Mall.
"They want to move into a nice apartment where they can live and they can walk to the theaters, walk to the restaurants, walk to all the retail," said Kevin Hipes, a longtime commercial real estate broker who became the Oviedo Mall's general manager in January. "We have to make this a 24/7-type place."
Opened in 1998, the Oviedo Mall has struggled to compete with nearby shopping centers like Waterford Lakes and the proliferation of online retailers, according to Hipes.
"It's never been a super-super successful mall," Hipes said. "Everybody in Oviedo loves their mall. They want to shop their mall. The problem is, the mall just never had enough critical mass of retail to really meet all of their shopping needs."
Hipes believes the best way to bring more life to the Oviedo Mall is to convert it to a mixed-use development with the addition of residential units.
"Almost every new development you see coming out of the ground today is not a power center (outdoor shopping mall) anymore, it's an apartment complex with a shopping center in front of it with a bunch of restaurants," said Hipes.
Hipes said he is not prepared to share the developers' specific plans or timeline for the Oviedo Mall property, but he acknowledged concerns shared by some city leaders and members of the community about the addition of more high-density development.
"This is a great location, no question," said Hipes, pointing out the mall's proximity to the 417 Expressway. "And we're far enough away from all of those beautiful homes and neighborhoods, because we're in the commercial hub, to serve it properly but not stomp all over it."
With the closure of Macy's department store in 2017 and the announcement that Sears will be vacating the mall by Christmas, Hipes and his team have been focused on bringing in more non-retail tenants.
District Eat and Play, an entertainment complex with bowling, escape rooms, virtual reality experiences and a restaurant opened in the mall last year.
Nearby, Neoware Studios is co-working facility where small-business owners who might normally work out of their homes can meet with clients in a professional setting and collaborate with others in their fields.
The concept has been so successful the company is currently expanding into an additional 18,000 square feet of space.
"We have the mall to thank for this. This is amazing," said Caesar Medel, the CEO of Neoware Studios. Prior to becoming the mall's general manager, Hipes opened a Mooyah's hamburger restaurant in the food court.
"I put my money where my mouth is. I've got a dog in this fight," said Hipes, who believes upcoming renovations to the Regal movie theater will drive even more traffic to his restaurant and the rest of the mall.
But he insists the addition of residential units is vital to the survival of the Oviedo Mall.
Hoping to generate and gauge support for the mixed-use development proposal, Hipes recently presented his vision for the Oviedo Mall on a closed Facebook group followed by many community members.
"I took a big risk," he said. "I could have gotten a very negative response by a thousand people saying, 'We don't want any more density in this town. Pack up your bags and get out of here, pal.'"
Instead, Hipes says he has been pleased to see the public's apparent interest in the proposal.
“If I don’t get to make this thing a mixed-use project, if I don’t get the approvals I need to make this happen, what’s going to happen to this mall? It’s just going to cease to exist,” said Hipes. “You’re going to end up with a big empty shell here.”