End of an Era: Death of Ponce de Leon Mall

April 15, 2015 11 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

While we've focused on Regency Square Mall's fall from grace, St. Augustine's Ponce de Leon Mall is quietly calling it quits. Here's a look at what First Coast shoppers will no longer be able to walk through.

When Ponce de Leon Mall opened in 1979, it was the first and only enclosed shopping center in St. Johns County. It was also home to the only Belk department store in the First Coast. It quickly became known as the "new mall" at US 1 and SR 312, at what was then St . Johns County's hottest intersection. For years, the 187,000-square-foot mall was anchored by JCPenney, Belk and a six-screen Regal Cinemas.

Competition came in the 1990s, with the opening of St. Augustine's outlet malls and Jacksonville's Avenues Mall.

Things were not always this way. When John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co. acquired the mall in 1997, the firm was in the midst of negotiations to add a two-story, 80,000-square-foot department store, Piccadilly Cafeteria, and planning to spend $250,000 to $500,000 on new lighting, floor coverings, paint, roof, and air conditioning improvements.

In 2002, Augusta, Ga.-based Hull Storey acquired the mall for $5 million. At the time, although the mall's movie theater was relatively undersized for the market, the overall occupancy rate stood at 95.5 percent. However, more competition was on the way.

Ponce de Leon Mall was dealt a huge negative blow with the opening of CBL & Associates' Cobblestone Village. While the other shopping centers were outside of St. Augustine, the 261,000-square-foot power center was literally right around the corner on SR 312, offering residents retailers and dining options that the older enclosed mall did not.

Still home to St. Augustine's only multiplex movie theater, Ponce de Leon Mall became a popular weekend hangout spot for local teenagers. Responding to increased competition, new mall owners implemented a teen curfew in 2007 requiring anyone under 16 to accompanied by an adult after 6 p.m. on weekends called "Family First". Intended to be a positive, the mall's pizza shop and adventure game store reported immediate losses of $600 and $500 in sales.

Unfortunately, instead of turning things around, the mall's fortunes took another major hit in 2010 with Weingarten Realty's Epic Theatres, less than two miles west. Ponce de León's movie theatre closed soon after, leaving only JCPenney and Belk as the mall's major anchors.

Despite a rebounding economy, Hull has decided to call it quits. With most of its storefronts empty, mall ownership has decided to permanently close the interior walkways, leaving the property's long term future in doubt.

Here's a look inside at what shoppers will no longer have access too.

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