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Will affordable artist studios boost traffic at Tyrone Square Mall?

Bill DeYoung



Tyrone Square Mall, the "Dillard's Corridor," March 29, 2022. Photos by Bill DeYoung.

Tyrone Square Mall will officially turn 50 in October. And while it’s not a ghost town, exactly, the amount of retail shops, as well as the number of circulating customers, has dwindled significantly from the 1970s and ‘80s, when shopping was a nearly everyday activity, and “hanging out” at the mall was a rite of passage for St. Petersburg teens.

Although malls nationwide are rebounding in the short term from steep declines in traffic due to the pandemic, the rise on online shopping has meant significantly less traffic in multi-store, enclosed malls.

And, according to Forbes, today’s in-person consumers are gravitating towards free-standing stores.

In an effort to breathe some life into Florida’s under-performing malls, the South Florida-based Zero Empty Spaces works with property owners and developers to do something with vacant properties that are open to being activated, versus sitting empty.

The organization has contracted with Simon Property Group, which owns Tyrone Square Mall, to lease several vacant mall storefronts – those in the western section, the so-called “Dillard’s Corridor” – as affordable artist studios and galleries.

Simon is the largest operator of retail malls in the United States.

Interested artists are invited to an Open House from noon through 1 p.m. Saturday (April 2), to view the available storefronts and talk with representatives from Zero Empty Spaces.

All spaces are $2.50 per square foot, including water and electric, on a month-to-month basis. The average available space is 120 square feet, or approximately $300 per month, plus tax.

“It’s really difficult for artists to find affordable studios anywhere,” said Andrew Martineau, a co-founder of Zero Empty Spaces. “Across the country. And since mall rents are generally pretty pricey, if the artists are not already with a gallery it’s really hard for them to be in a space with so much built-in traffic. To be able to showcase their work.”

Martineau said the program – which began on Fort Lauderdale’s Las Olas Boulevard in 2019 – has been a success, for the artists, and for the mall owners.

“It activated an otherwise vacant space, and because it’s active seven days a week, the property owner was actually getting a lot of activity,” Martineau explained.

“So somebody comes in, really likes the vibe, and ends up doing a permanent, long-term lease with the landlord. Because it isn’t dark, you can actually walk in, check it out. The property owner doesn’t necessarily have to wait for an agent to come out and meet with them.”

In other words, an open artist studio-slash gallery is a viable advertisement for the property.

“Also, and we’ve seen this happen, if you have vacancies sometimes it affects the neighboring tenants. Because you don’t have that much of a draw coming out to the area. And people see closed doors and dark windows, and they turn around and walk out. Not knowing there might be a tenant right next door.

“So it really does a major amount to support neighboring tenants. Because it also provides activity.”

Zero Empty Spaces website.





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  1. Avatar

    Karen J Douglas

    March 29, 2022at3:50 pm

    wonderful idea. I hope we fill it.

  2. Avatar

    John Donovan

    March 29, 2022at4:23 pm

    Smart idea ! There is even more malls can do. Lots of empty ground available. Lots of air space overhead.

  3. Avatar

    Betsy Lester

    March 30, 2022at4:29 am

    We who pay too much downtown studio rent applaud the idea. Encore!

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