By Sarah Whitman
Senior Staff Writer
The future of Village Lakes Shopping Center remains unknown. When Wal-Mart moved out of the center last fall to its new mega-center on US 41, people began speculating what would fill the space.
Property management company Ramco Gershenson Properties Trust should have an answer within the next 30 to 60 days.
“Right now we are in negotiations with retailers,” Michael Sullivan, senior vice president of investment, said. “There are two scenarios. In one scenario, there will be one user in the space. In the other, there will be several tenants in the space.”
Shoppers and employees at Village Lakes have their own opinions about how to best use the space.
“I’d rather see one retailer than several,” said Dawn Chiacchio, hair stylist at Euro Concepts Salon. “I can maybe see two businesses there, but I don’t see how more than two would work.”
Shopper and Land O’ Lakes resident Gladys Romain agrees.
“I’d like to see a store go in like an outlet,” she said. “I think it should be a big-name store where middle class people shop, like a Kohl’s.”
Ben Pumo, owner of Benedetto’s, thinks several retailers would be risky.
“There would be more of a chance that the businesses would go out of business,” he said. “One big retailer would be better because it would be consistent.”
According to Sullivan, a major retailer is a definite possibility. His main goal is to keep Village Lakes open and thriving. He has no intention of letting the center empty out.
“This property is a keeper for us and we are committed to making it work,” he said. “We want to redevelop the property for the next generation.”
Built in 1987, Village Lakes is the oldest shopping center of its size in Land O’ Lakes. Throughout the years, smaller businesses have come and gone from the center. In 2009, Jam Music went out of business and Room Exchange and Weck’s Deli relocated to other centers.
Remaining businesses include Sweetbay, Beef O’ Brady’s, Goodwill-Suncoast, The Dollar Tree, Murphy’s Pub, Gentle Pet Animal Hospital and Land O’ Lakes Dental.
Dental receptionist Kera Mandigo thinks the next tenant should mimic Wal-Mart’s success.
“I miss the Wal-Mart,” she said. “I think it would be good if another big store went there, something that would bring in a lot of people.”
Sam Hamdaoi owns Uptown Pizza in Village Lakes.
“I’ve heard a lot of rumors,” Hamdaoi said. “I’ve heard that the store is going to be divided into two spaces and about Beall’s Outlet leasing one of the spaces.”
Shopper Romain winces at the idea.
“Oh no, we don’t need another Beall’s,” she said.
Sullivan said he is unable to comment on what specific retailers are involved in negotiations. Still, he is optimistic that not too long from now, the mystery of Village Lakes will be announced.
“We don’t want to jinx anything but I can tell you we are working on finding the perfect fit,” he said. “Redeveloping properties is one of our greatest strengths.”
Village Lakes Shopping Center is located on SR 54, one mile east of US 41.
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