BREVARD MALL
South Babcock Street and West Hibiscus Boulevard
Melbourne, Florida

The story of the Edward J. DeBartolo Corporation's first Florida mall begins in 1933, when the City of Melbourne acquired a 160 acre tract west of the Indian River. The land was developed into a small airfield, which morphed into Naval Air Station Melbourne in October 1942. This facility was in use until February 1946.

In 1947, the airfield was deeded back to the City of Melbourne. Soon after, it began operating as the Melbourne-Eau Gallie Airport. By the mid-1960s, the name had been changed to John F. Kennedy Memorial Airport. The facility would be known as the Melbourne Regional Airport by the 1970s. In 1993, the terminal was upgraded to today's Melbourne International Airport.

Meanwhile, Youngstown, Ohio's DeBartolo Corporation, fresh from the development of its first mall in Mentor, Ohio, had set its sights on the Sunshine State. A 29.8 acre plot, part of the aforementioned airport, was purchased. Financed by the Cape Coral-based Florida Mortgage Funding Corporation, BREVARD MALL was under construction by April 1962.

The 2.1 million dollar project would be anchored by a 1-level (103,400 square foot) Montgomery Ward and 1-level (73,800 square foot) J.C. Penney. This store featured the very first Penneys Auto Center.

BREVARD MALL consisted of a single level of retail and was originally open-air in format. It housed approximately 312,900 leasable square feet. In addition to Ward's and J.C. Penney, there were Eckerd Drug, Thom McAn Shoes, Kinney Shoes, the Sunnybrite Laundry, Mac's Zoo Room cocktail lounge, a J.G. McCrory 5 & 10 and Winn-Dixie supermarket.

Montgomery Ward, the chain's tenth Florida store, opened March 17, 1963. The dedication of J.C. Penney followed in August. Miami-based Jordan Marsh of Florida opened Sports Colony, a women's sportswear boutique, in October 1965.

Brevard County's first shopping mall had no true competition until MERRITT SQUARE MALL {18.5 miles north, on Merritt Island} was completed, in 1970. As a countermeasure, BREVARD MALL had been renovated into a fully-enclosed structure by the late 1970s.

More intense rivalry came from MELBOURNE SQUARE {1.4 miles southwest, also in Melbourne}, which was dedicated in 1982. Also a DeBartolo development, MELBOURNE SQUARE snatched J.C. Penney from BREVARD MALL. The older complex began a downward spiral.

Its Ward's store had been rebranded as a Miami-based Jefferson Ward in January 1980. This experiment in "upscale discount" was not successful and the chain folded in February 1986, leaving BREVARD MALL with a second vacant anchor.

Pittsburgh's J.J. Gumberg acquired the property in July 1987 and embarked on a 1.3 million dollar renovation. Quarry-tile floors were installed along with cloth "boat sail" ceilings, new landscaping and lighting. The mall's exterior was also updated.

Massachusetts-based T.J. Maxx opened a store in the old Winn-Dixie space and the vacant Jefferson Ward was renovated into a Montgomery Ward Specialty Store. This opened in August 1987. The mall remodeling job was completed in the fall. Unfortunately, the "new" BREVARD MALL failed to catch on.

By the late 1990s, the virtually vacant mall, officially known as FLORIDA MARKETPLACE AT BREVARD, had become an office complex. A listing of tenants over the following years would include industrial facilities such as Conexant (in the old Ward's) and Percepta (in the old Penney's), along with studios for WFKS "Kiss 95.1" radio, Pilot Training College, Medical Data Systems, Grace Christian Church and the Starlight Palace nightclub.

A 2.7 acre section on the east-facing side of the mall site was sectioned off and sold early in the 21st century. The 133-room Residence Inn by Marriott opened in January 2008. By this time, the mall in back was being promoted as the FLORIDA BUSINESS CENTRE.

Sources:

The Miami News
The Orlando Sentinel
Sarasota Herald-Tribune
www.mlbair.com (Melbourne International Airport)
www.showcase.com
G. Norman, Brevard County resident since 1974
www.robertfinvarbcompanies.com