Workspace: Sal Saldana, general manager, St. Johns Town Center
Sal Saldana has managed the St. Johns Town Center from the ground up.
Saldana, 49, has been with Simon Property Group Inc., an owner of the center, for 20 years and came to Jacksonville in 2004.
“I came here when it was dirt,” he said of the 240 acres at the Interstate 295 East Beltway and Butler Boulevard that yielded a 1.2 million-square-foot open-air center.
The center features the area’s only Tiffany & Co., Louis Vuitton, Omega, Juicy Couture, Apple, Abercrombie & Fitch, The Cheesecake Factory, Maggiano’s Little Italy, J. Alexander’s, Coldwater Creek and White House Black Market, to name a few. Nordstrom is scheduled to open in two years.
The center is co-owned by Ben Carter Properties and Simon Property Group, which also has ownership interests in The Avenues and Orange Park malls.
Saldana said St. Johns Town Center attracts 10 million people a year and is second only to the Beaches as an area destination, drawing customers from south of Atlanta to north of Orlando and west to Tallahassee.
Saldana is a Texas native. A marketing major in college, he was waiting tables where the general sales manager for a South Padre Island radio station was a customer. Using his marketing skills, Saldana took action.
“When I served him his meal, I put my resume next to his plate,” he said. He landed a job. Coincidentally, the sales manager has since retired to Jacksonville.
Saldana moved to San Antonio to continue selling radio ads and his accounts included the shopping malls. A Simon mall marketing manager was leaving, so Saldana stepped in.
“I’ve enjoyed it. The company’s been very good,” he said.
Saldana moved to different Simon malls and eventually he was asked to research the development and practices of open-air centers.
“When this one came up, they said, what do you think? I jumped on it,” he said.
Saldana came to Jacksonville with a young family. His wife, Josephine, teaches elementary school; 19-year-old Danielle now is in college and 15-year-old Julia is in high school.
His workday starts at Starbucks Coffee Co. and he walks the center from there, talks with staff, has meetings, works with the operations team, checks email, meets with corporate representatives and handles other tasks.
The real focus is the vision. He said the team always is looking ahead to what’s next with the center. (There might be another department store, but that decision has not been made.)
Saldana summarizes his role as managing the “look, feel and comfort” of the St. Johns Town Center, as well as its financials. He has a staff of 10 people. The landscape and security work is contracted.
In walking the property, Saldana notes the manicured landscaping, the atmosphere, the music and the people.
He chats with shoppers and merchants. He knows the environment triggers moods and feelings, which bring visitors back.
“I’m amazed at the property every time I walk around,” Saldana said. “I do walk the property with a great sense of pride.”