One of the hottest tourist destinations in South Florida is getting a major and much-needed upgrade. The interior of Sawgrass Mills Mall, which opened in Sunrise almost 30 years ago, is showing its age through old carpets and run-down food courts. Now, the Simon Property Group is taking on the challenge of bringing a relic of the late '80s, early '90s mall boom into 2019.
"Specifically, what we are renovating is the original enclosed portion of the mall," says David Gott, general manager of Sawgrass Mills. "It is the entire enclosed portion from Marshall's all the way to Brandsmart and everything in between."
Worn-out furniture, old flooring, and a lack of natural light date the interior's appearance. And despite the additions of the Colonnade and new restaurants such as Yardhouse, Seasons 52, and Matchbox, the mall's interior has remained pretty much the same since the mall opened in 1990.
"It's just time to have a more up-to-date look — more 2019 and less 1990," Gott tells New Times. When we look at our floors, they certainly seem like it has seen better days," Gott says.
The food courts on the east and west sides of the mall will be updated with new charging stations and skylights to allow for more natural lighting. Although the food courts will rebrand as "food halls" — an indication of the growing food hall trend in South Florida — the existing dining options of Chipotle, Subway, and Sbarro will remain for as long their leases allow.
Multiple employees and store managers who spoke to New Times said they were not aware of the coming renovations. One store manager, who asked to remain anonymous, says he knows first-hand how necessary the upgrades are, as his store's roof leaks often. But he added that he fears the renovations could disrupt business if certain mall entrances are closed.
And Simon Property Group's upgrade will involve more than simply renovating existing facilities. The mall is also expanding. Among the forthcoming retail options is Primark, a European equivalent to American fast-fashion stores such as Forever 21. Construction on a 174-room AC Marriott hotel is also set to begin this spring, with the expectation to open by the fall of 2020.
Gott said he expects the hotel to be attractive to those who plan to attend concerts or hockey games at the BB&T Center as well as business travelers considering its proximity to American Express's Latin American headquarters and the larger corporate park in west Broward.
In overpopulated South Florida, expansions and new construction plans often prompt fears of traffic gridlock. But Sunrise Mayor Michael Ryan brushes off those concerns.
"We already handle an immense population that comes and goes," says Ryan. "The work that the state has made to make improvements along 595 and the Sawgrass Expressway are critical to that, and importantly, the Pat Salerno Interchange, which only has access to the south."
Sunrise, in partnership with Simon, is working with the state to allow for northbound access on Pat Salerno Drive to and from the mall and the BB&T Center to ease traffic congestion. "If that happens, it's going to make getting in and out of the mall so much easier," says Ryan.
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The mayor believes Sawgrass Mills is worthy of continued investment, even as some residents worry about the traffic the expansion may generate, particularly during the holiday season.
"[The mall] generates an enormous amount of sales tax for the state and the county and for the municipalities — and the fact they are investing more heavily in this age of more online retail tells us that they know they have a successful project there," he adds.
But locals are already forced to maneuver around the congestion by visiting the mall early in the morning or going during the week.
Even considering those factors, Selena Anderson, a part-time sales associate at Theory in the Colonnade who also lives by the mall, says she's unbothered by the planned expansion. "There is so much room in here and I think it has been fine. I typically come in really early or mid-day, but even mid-day — sometimes it may take an extra minute, but other than that it's not bad."