TriGate Capital completes the acquisition of The Shops at Wiregrass

Blood, sweat and tears: Shops of Wiregrass changing with the times

By JOHN C. COTEY, Tampa Beacon 

On a perfectly sunny and soon-to-be-too-hot Florida day, Paseo Drive, the street that runs right through the Shops at Wiregrass, is nearly empty. The mall has yet to spring to life for the day, but there is action.

At Orange Theory, a woman walks out toward her car, her face buried in her watch, no doubt checking her exercise stats following a midmorning spin. A few moments later, a handful of sweaty men and women file out of the Row House, a boutique fitness center where members churn away on rowing machines.

At the center of the mall, in the stage area, Jason Gruter is sweaty and hot, but he didn’t come out of any building. He enjoys the comfort and safety of a walk, and sometimes run, around the mall. He says he is often joined by mothers pushing their children in strollers.

“I like to just come out in the morning and walk around the mall, maybe grab a smoothie, do some people watching,” he says. “It’s a little hotter than I would like today; I’m a little jealous of these guys working out in one of these gyms.”

The Shops at Wiregrass, for years rumored to be on the same shaky ground as other failing malls across the country, is evolving into what it always said it would be when it first opened in 2008 — a true lifestyle center.

Back then, the outdoor setting alone made the Shops at Wiregrass different, but as retail suffered, so did the mall. Now, being a premium lifestyle center has required some significant changes.

The focus at many malls has shifted, and surveys of customers show that they care about other things more than just shopping your typical retail, like restaurants, health and wellness offerings and new, fresh concepts.

Because while you can order just about anything online, the one thing you can’t order is an experience.

That’s just part of what the Shops at Wiregrass is selling these days, as it follows the lead of malls all across the country. The Shops have added popular exercise boutiques over the past few years, hoping to attract new customers. The Shops now have an array of fitness centers — Orange Theory, which has been around the longest, Row House, Club Pilates, HotWorx and Jabz Boxing. Many of the fitness centers even host classes on the mall’s center court lawn.

“The variety of fitness-related retailers supports our mixed-use tenant strategy and helps to make the center a destination,” said the new owners, Dallas-based TriGate Capital, LLC, who responded to a number of questions about the health and future of the mall by email.

TriGate Capital purchased the open-air mall at Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and State Road 56 last month for $70.5 million.

Some of the emphasis toward food and fitness was put into place ahead of the sale, but the new owners say they plan on continuing down that road.

“The fitness industry made a comeback coming out of the pandemic,” they said. “Individuals have become more active and health conscious. There is now a growing demand for different fitness and health and wellness offerings.”

Hannah Cortelli, who has managed the Row House since it opened in August 2020, says she has noticed the transition as the mall has fought to stay relevant.

“Yes, it's definitely noticeable,” she said. “It is definitely bringing people here for fitness. It makes people think of other things to come to the mall for. So obviously, we like it.”

As far as new concepts go, next month, a large Signature Workspace coworking business is set to open, and new restaurants featuring ethnic fare that’s hard to find in Wesley Chapel are coming as well.

“Undoubtedly, the traditional retail footprint is changing,” say the new owners. “The Shops at Wiregrass is not a traditional mall, but an open-air mixed-use lifestyle center where customers are able to shop, dine, play, and soon, work.”

The Signature Workplace is expected to open in July, in the old Forever 21 location. Trendy women’s clothing and jewelry will be swapped out for a hip work setting that caters to mobile and small business owners and entrepreneurs.

Signature Workplace will offer a “cutting edge” workspace when it opens its multi-level, 28,000-square-foot project. There will be team suites, coworking spaces, meeting rooms, event space, a wellness room and a cafe and lounge, among other amenities.

Like many of the mall’s changes, it is geared towards fitting into customer’s lifestyles.

One could conceivably do an early morning or evening workout at any number of boutiques fitness centers at the mall, before or after working and hosting meetings at the Signature Workspace, and meet a client for lunch or dinner at one of the mall’s restaurants, all without getting in a car.

The central location and lifestyle fit was perfect for the North Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce, according to chief executive Hope Kennedy. The chamber was the first one to sign with Signature Workspace and will have an office in the building.

“The location is perfect,” Kennedy said.

According to the new mall owners, Kennedy wasn’t the only one in line early for a spot.

“Signature Workspace, at The Shops at Wiregrass, has had the greatest pre-leasing demand of any of its locations, and will offer easy office access to area locals in the suburbs all while incorporating the downtown ambience,” they said. “Members will benefit from proximity to leisure facilities, a large directory of retailers, and complimentary parking. Coworkers will naturally become customers of our on-site restaurants and retailers.”

The new owners did not answer any questions specific to the general health of the Shops of Wiregrass in comparison to other malls, but it indicated it intends to continue to innovate and embrace change.

Malls may be at the beginning of a new phase of evolution. The once-failing Grove at Wesley Chapel used quality restaurants in converted shopping containers and entertainment and is now thriving, and the Citrus Park mall recently opened a large gaming and go-kart attraction inside one of its former anchor buildings.

The Shops at Wiregrass owners say there are more upgrades coming in the future, as the mall seems intent on being a part of the future. Figuring out a way to drive people to the mall for more than just the once-mighty anchor store offerings may be the key to it all.

“We no longer think of ‘anchors’ as the largest tenants in our center, but rather all tenants that drive traffic and consumers to our properties,” they said. “For example … some of our restaurants, such as The Living Room and Noble Crust, are driving people to the property for their incredible food and drink offerings. Our fitness concepts like Orange Theory and Row House are bringing people to the property daily. Finally, once Signature Workspace opens this summer, we’ll have workers coming to our center Monday through Friday (and hopefully on weekends for fun!).”