Mall Makeovers: Struggling malls revamping to boost business

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by Ron Trevino / 11 News

khou.com

Posted on March 13, 2010 at 12:48 AM

Updated Saturday, Mar 13 at 1:41 AM

HOUSTON—Houston has a number of shopping malls struggling right now, and some of those malls are trying to revamp their shopping centers by spending millions of dollars on makeovers.

You can see the empty parking lots from the freeways. They are a clear indication of the struggling malls around town. 
Some malls seem like ghost towns compared to what they used to be when Houston was much younger.
Back in 1961, Chubby Checker blared from car radios as Houstonians made their way to Sharpstown, Houston’s first air-conditioned mall. Sharpstown’s parking lots were filled to the brim in those days. 
A lot of malls in the Houston area are having a tough time right now. If it’s not the recession, it’s the changing shopping habits of their customers.  A lot of malls are now having to reinvent themselves to bring business back. 
In the case of Sharpstown mall, it means changing the name and going in a different direction.
Now the mall, once known as Sharpstown, will be called Plazamericas. The mall will emerge from bankruptcy taking on a Latin theme, which will cater to the Latino community surrounding the mall.     
“I think it’s great because it’s always nice to have something and a place to go to feel at home,” said Eliana Benitez, shopper.  
A $10 million renovation is underway. At Plazamericas, they are building a Mercado, a movie theater and a play area for kids. 
That may be good news to one shop owner and longtime resident of the mall. Amir Fada has been running "Men of Style" for 18 years. He has been at the mall through good times and bad. 
“With the new management we have, the mall is coming along really good, a lot of improvement, it’s really safe, and safer to be here,” he said. 
Security had become a problem at the old Sharpstown, but it’s been beefed up for Plazamericas.
“You can see a lot of security around. Like two months ago, they used to have like one or two, but now, it’s like four or five,” said Yeison Zapata, shopper. 
Another mall with too many empty parking spots and empty stores is Greenspoint Mall. And it is also in the process of reinventing itself, to the tune of $32 million. But the mall is still having a slight problem. 
“The difficulty, of course, is that with the retailers and the new entrepreneurs having trouble borrowing money,” said Carl Esser, Triyar Cannon Group. 
Still, Greenspoint is managing to find some new tenants, as it tries another makeover.
It’s not easy, but it has been done in Houston.
It happened with the rebirth of Meyerland Plaza. It is a very popular shopping plaza today, but in the 1980s, it languished in the ash heap of bankruptcy. 
“It had gotten to the point where there were like five total tenants left in the mall, and it was depressed, and you were grateful for anyone who walked in your office,” said Dr. David Lopez, optometrist.         
Ed Wulfe is the real estate guru who redeveloped Meyerland Plaza and the Gulfgate shopping center.
The way he sees it, struggling malls have to change, or else.
“Turning what used to be the conventional mall into a different retail entity, and there’s some of them that may not be retail at all. It could be industrial or office industrial,” said Wulfe. 
While the struggling malls can’t go back in time, the key to survival may be to get a new look and change their tune.  

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