Vacant Florida department store could become public library

MANATEE, Fla. — Manatee County has entered into talks to acquire the former Dillard’s department store in the DeSoto Square mall and would consider moving the Central Library there, Administrator Ed Hunzeker said Thursday.

Hunzeker said discussions with mall owner Simon Group of Indianapolis are in their "infancy state."

But the county is interested in the property because of its prime location and proximity to a Manatee County Area Transit station.

"If we were to do something, the library would be a possibility," Hunzeker said. "We’re looking at a number of ways we could better serve the public from that location and possibly bring traffic to the mall."

A representative of Simon Group was unavailable for comment Thursday.

Dillard's opened in August 1992 as an anchor tenant in the mall. The store closed Nov. 3 after slumping sales forced the Little Rock, Ark.-based company to scale back operations.

Cheri Coryea, the county's neighborhood services manager, said the county has been exploring a partnership with the mall for the Dillard's property for about nine months.

"We're not looking to purchase it," Coryea said. "We'd be more interested in some other type of relationship."

The Dillard’s building has stood empty since the store’s departure. It boasts about 100,000 square feet, almost twice the size of the current Central Library, which needs almost $1 million in repairs, Coryea said.

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