If you’ve ever driven past FSCJ’s Deerwood campus at the corner of Old Baymeadows Road and Southside Boulevard and thought, “Hey, that kinda looks like a tiny mall,” you’re not that far off.
Longtime residents of the Deerwood area will remember that the building was, in fact, originally built as a mall – Grande Boulevard Mall, to be specific.
In the early ‘80s, construction began on the $16 million, two-story Grande Boulevard Mall project. Records indicate that the mall was designed by The Haskell Co., a local architecture firm that has also worked on TIAA Bank Field and the Daytona International Speedway.
The mall was marketed as both unique and upscale – with a clear emphasis on the latter. It was anchored by Jacobson’s, an upscale department store that had around 20 locations nationwide at the time. It featured around 70 tenants in total, most of them high-end stores selling items with price tags in the hundreds, or even thousands. Food and drink options included Annie Tique’s and T-Birds Dance Club.
The developers were hoping to capitalize on the wealthy residents of the nearby Deerwood neighborhood. Advertisements for the mall pegged it as ritzy and “not for everyone,” in effect limiting its clientele to wealthy residents who wanted people to know they were wealthy.
Unfortunately, the developers had overestimated the demand for high-end retailers in the area. A combination of shortsighted marketing strategies and high price tags doomed the mall pretty early on in its lifespan. Strange decisions by the mall’s operators didn’t help, such as closing at 6:00 on weekdays and not even opening on Sundays.
Within just a few years of opening, the mall had been taken over by creditors and was hemorrhaging tenants. Business declined even further when The Avenues opened down the street in 1990, featuring reasonably-priced stores and even a high-end anchor of its own, Parisian.
In 1994, the mall’s owners sold the building – minus Jacobson’s anchor spot – to Florida Community College at Jacksonville, or what’s now FSCJ.
The school then set to work on the corridors and shops of the mall into classrooms and open space for a new campus. By 1995 it had become the FCCJ Open Campus Deerwood Center, a self-contained mini-campus formed from an abandoned mall.
Jacobson’s kept operating alongside the college until 2002, when the company went bankrupt. FSCJ then acquired the remaining space, incorporating it into the rest of the campus.
Today, FSCJ Deerwood Center houses much of the college’s IT program and is also home to its distance learning programs and some of its television operations. The building features a bookstore, food court, and office space.
As FSCJ continues to grow and thrive, its Deerwood Center campus will surely continue to be an important asset for the school. And while it’s not quite what the original developers had in mind for the space, at least the elegantly-designed mall managed to remain useful long after its last tenant closed.