Exciting things are happening at two shopping destinations in Ocala, under the administration of a dynamic new general manager with a shopping obsession of her own.
Ashley Wheeler-Gerds scored another career win when she transitioned from sports media to a leadership role in property management. Earlier this year, Wheeler-Gerds became general manager of the Paddock Mall and Gaitway Plaza properties in Ocala.
She says the mall is 98 percent leased, with several new stores, some amazing boutiques coming and a new holiday experience. There is a new Five Below and Sally Beauty at Gaitway Plaza, and Carter’s and OshKosh B’gosh are under construction.
We chatted with Wheeler-Gerds about the two properties, and her professional and personal life.
Tell us what’s new at the mall.
We have really put emphasis on creating more family activities, including a new free play area called The Yard, with pingpong tables, cornhole, hopscotch, and life-size games such as tic-tac-toe, Jenga, Legos and chess.
We partnered with AdventHealth Ocala to create a new mall walking program that rewards walkers for every MILEstone they hit, and Starbucks, Macy’s, and Chick-fil-A all got involved. AdventHealth created an informational booth at the former customer service area and visitors can learn about everything from the Birth Day Experience to finding a primary care doctor.
We are currently working with Beau Broker on new sit-down restaurant concepts to follow our new on-site Texas Roadhouse. We have new signage and landscaping, and we are working on renderings for an indoor/outdoor patio for the food court. New food court tenants Hawaiian Poke Bowl and Claw Mamas specialize in fresh foods.
How did you become involved with the mall?
My husband came home to Ocala when he accepted a position as Marketing Director for AdventHealth. I had already decided to leave sports when I got a call from a recruiter. I love my job and my ability to help give back to my community in so many ways.
We hear you returned to Ocala on a mission. Tell us about it.
I was hired by Washington Prime to bring new life to Paddock Mall and Gaitway Plaza. Even though my title is General Manager, Washington Prime considers us Community Ambassadors and CEOs of our properties. We run a “village” and iconic piece of the city. It’s our job to engage with the community, help and encourage greatness.
My one request when accepting the position was a new holiday set. Coming from the sports world of ever-changing events and always striving to be the best of the best, I knew I had to knock this out of the park. I secured community partners such as Stentiford Construction, Tyler Stentiford Designs, Ocala Electric Utility, Michaels, and Jenkins Kia to help me bring this vision to life. We’ll have a 3,000-square-foot holiday set that will rival malls everywhere. It’s a walk-through experience with things to see at every angle. Families can experience Santa privately with no onlookers, which will ease the stress of children who may get overstimulated by people in line watching.
What is your vision for evolving the two properties?
At Paddock we recently finished Hop Stop Beer and Bites, Candy Cart, Sunelli, and have five new stores coming by the end of the year. You can watch your favorite sporting event and drink a craft beer or wine at Hop Stop, get candy by the pound, buy furniture at Macy’s, rent a super fun luxury car stroller that makes noise, and, soon, ride a choo-choo train.
We also are working on a Comic Festival in January; Home and Bridal Show; Chocolate Affaire; Brunch, Bourbon and Beer; and many more events.
Who are some of your community partners?
Chick-fil-A Paddock Mall supports Shady Hill Elementary School in partnership with the Public Education Foundation Business Partners program. We also have several other partnerships, such as the Marion Cultural Alliance; Transitions Life Center; Marion County Public Schools, which will host upcoming Chorus Groups Holiday Shows in Center Court; and the Marion County Children’s Alliance.
Tell us about your career in sports media.
I worked with IMG College and ESPN on college multi-media rights and sponsorship, as well as college football playoffs, national championship games, The Masters Tournament, The Kentucky Derby and the Super Bowl. I still sit on the ESPN Events Executive Committee.
Are you a big shopper yourself?
I am a sale shopper. I love a good deal. I also have a Lilly Pulitzer obsession. I beg Belk weekly to get Lilly Pulitzer in Florida, as they sell it in other states and online. I secretly think my husband pays them to not carry it at Paddock.
What do you like to do for fun?
My husband and I love to go to Silver Springs State Park and rent kayaks, and visit the Ocala Downtown Market and the historic Marion Theatre.