Youssef Youssef, the owner of Feta Mediterranean Gourmet in Oviedo Mall, keeps an empty bucket in his small kitchen. Every time it rains, the water leaks through the mall’s ceiling and drips onto his kitchen counter, forcing him to pull out the bucket and place it there.
Leaking water has almost become a daily inconvenience for him and many other mall tenants since the mall was opened in 1998, he said. This year, on the mall’s 25th anniversary, the leaking issue is just as relevant.
In the last few years, Oviedo Mall owners have spent more than $3 million in total repairs, $1.5 million of that total was for the leaky part of the roof. Oviedo Mall Development Director Kevin Hipes said the mall would fix its maintenance issues within 12 months. He estimates that another $1 million will be needed to finish fixing the roof.
“The mall is not maintained properly right now, but little by little, over the last three years, we have fixed things, and we are not done yet,” he said.
Hipes said he didn’t know exactly why the roof had been leaking since its construction. He said they actively tried fixing the roof during the past two years. Several roofing companies had declined the job due to its unique glass structure and uneven surface, which differs from most malls with square and flat roofs.
“These skylights are unique designs not found in many malls,” Hipes said. “They have leaked periodically over many years depending on the intensity and angle of the rain.”
Hipes said that another issue is that the leaks are inconsistent. During a rainy July day, one of the largest clusters of buckets was in the west wing, near Auntie Anne’s, a jewelry shop and The Keto Cafe. Axel Rodriguez, an associate at Auntie Anne’s, said he was responsible for finding additional buckets to place near the pretzel shop due to new leaks.
“It progressively gets worse,” Rodriguez said. “We couldn’t even find enough buckets to cover the entire [leak] and it was still overflowing.”
Hipes explained that the buckets have to move and shift as the rainfalls were more torrential in recent years and could fall in various directions depending on the wind. Tropical storms and hurricanes have become more intense during the past 20 years and the intensity is expected to continue to increase due to climate change, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.
“If you can put a man on a moon, you can fix the leaks,” Hipes said. “It’s just not easy, and we are getting estimates from professional companies that will give us a good warranty.”
Issues beyond the leaks
Hipes said the mall has been working on addressing other infrastructure problems, such as broken air conditioning and landscaping issues.
The owner of Calliope Street art store, Denise Manara, said that the mall had undergone significant improvements, including installing new air conditioning units in the hallways, which she said many people hadn’t noticed.
Hipes said the Mall spent more than $1.5 million to install new air conditioning in the hallways in 2022. He said the next step is to install new air conditioning inside the stores, which is estimated to cost $1 million.
Between 2019 and 2021, Oviedo’s Code Enforcement office received 18 complaints about the Mall’s landscape and roadways. Violations included dead trees in medians, leaves piled up along curbs and weeds several feet high in some places. There were also more dangerous violations like disappearing parking lot stripes and faded directional signs on the roadway within the mall’s property.
Oviedo Special Magistrate Howard Marsee ordered the Mall to address the violations and come into compliance with the maintenance standards, which were established in 1997, by Nov. 30, 2021 or face daily $125 fines.
Hipes said the mall completed 90% of the requested landscaping work, spending $300,000 to reseal and restripe the parking areas and $150,000 to plant more trees.
“We have planted all the trees and plants they have requested,” Hipes said. “We also resealed and restriped the whole parking lot.”
Despite these issues, tenants say being at the mall provides them with opportunities they couldn’t get elsewhere. The same goes for shoppers. Manara said that Oviedo Mall is becoming a unique place because it includes many local stores “you cannot find on Amazon.”
“I love how this mall looks,” Manara said. “It’s about unique experiences. You can’t find most of the stores here anywhere else.”
Hipes said it was challenging for the mall to survive during COVID, but he kept it open by allowing a low-cost short-term leasing option in exchange for the mall’s right to eliminate such leases if someone who pays more showed up. This approach enabled small businesses to afford to rent space in the mall. In 2023, 80% of the tenants are short-term.
“I believe we created a win-win situation and provided a great opportunity for local entrepreneurs to start up their businesses,” Hipes said.
Youssef has owned Feta Mediterranean Gourmet for almost 20 years. He said the people at the mall have become his family. While he wasn’t happy about the maintenance issues, he realized repairs would take time.
“I love this mall,” Youssef said. “It’s a family mall. Dozens of kids come here every day. For me, this mall is also like a big family. I know everybody. People are nice to me.”
Hipes said it’s personal for him to see the mall succeed, explaining that the mall holds significance for the community since many residents have fond memories of visiting it while growing up.
One of these residents is Rodriguez, who decided to get a job at the mall because he spent his teenage years there, hanging out with friends and enjoying time without his parents’ supervision. He said the mall still has a chance to redeem.
“This mall is the future of malls because everything here is a small business,” Rodriguez said. “The consistency of the customers here and the communities that each store has underneath their belt is revolutionary.”
This is the second installment of a two-part series on the Oviedo Mall, focusing on its current conditions and offerings and its plans for the future.
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