By Sara DiNatale – Tampa Bay Times

TAMPA — The developers working to turn University Mall into a research village will begin demolition today as the first step of the Uptown District project.

The demolition gets underway in earnest around 11:30 a.m. on the corridor that connects the main strip of the existing mall to a long-abandoned JCPenney.

“Our local Tampa team is committed to successfully transforming the property from a traditional enclosed mall into a mixed-use, urban neighborhood development incorporating science and tech research and innovation,” RD Management strategist Chris Bowen said in a statement.

RD plans to turn the west side of the property between the former JCPenney and what remains of the original mall into a pedestrian-friendly street with new outdoor storefronts. The former JCPenney — two stories and 160,000-square-feet — will be renovated into an office and technology research building.

Health and fitness studios, a spruced-up lake and a new apartment complex are all part of the proposed plans for the 100-acre property’s west side, according to Bowen. The project, as of now, calls for leaving the main part of the mall intact as a retail and workspace artery for the property.

RD bought the struggling mall in 2014 for $29.5 million. Since then, the company has announced plans to reuse parts of the existing structure for a bustling new city center that feeds off of the nearby University of South Florida campus.

Bowen has said that years down the line, he envisions the property becoming a hub for research with retail, food halls, dog parks and high-rises.