Four months after buying the struggling Regency Square Mall, the New York-based owners have hired a general manager and assistant, new tenants are opening and more are preparing to set up shop.
With a focus on the East Mall, from Belk to JCPenney, mall staff says occupancy there will be up to 75 percent, with at least 15 new leases signed in the past three months. A dozen of those tenants could open by Aug. 15.
“I believe we have something very, very good and all it needs is tender, loving involvement,” said James Kramer, who said he was hired three months ago to boost occupancy at the Arlington property.
He explained that included “involvement by us, involvement by the community and involvement by tenants.”
The regional mall was built in 1967, later expanded and then battered by the loss of tenants to newer shopping centers in growing parts of town.
The owners focus on buying and redeveloping aging shopping malls.
Kramer, Regency’s general manager, and administrative assistant Sondra Anderson, who worked at the mall since last fall with former owners, said Wednesday they are the two-person main office staff. Anderson also is the community-relations coordinator.
“We’re encouraged,” Kramer said in his mall management office, after fielding calls from prospective tenants.
Kramer said this morning he is executing a lease for Sports Mania to open next week.
One of the new tenants is Shawn Hundley, a retired U.S. Marine who opened Like Mama’s in the food court on May 23.
“It’s going pretty good,” he said Wednesday. “I wanted to own my own business and to do something different with the mall.”
He hired cook Mark Corbitt, who brings more than 20 years of experience to the comfort-food restaurant.
Kramer said he brings 35 years of experience to Regency, including time with Simon Property Group malls. Simon has long had ownership interests in St. Johns Town Center, The Avenues mall and Orange Park Mall.
Kramer said that while sales aren’t booming at Regency Square, “we’re at the point we’re starting to go up.”
He said Dillard’s and Sears are “pleased with sales,” Belk is doing well and “JCPenney is doing extremely well.”
Kramer declined to comment about Belk’s future at Regency. A site was cleared several miles east of the mall for a new Belk department store, expected to open in March. A Belk departure creates another large space to fill.
Regency Mall Realty LLC, which is the lead company that bought Regency, is a joint venture of Namdar Realty Group LLC and Mason Asset Management, both of Great Neck. They bought the property from General Growth Properties.
Regency Mall Realty paid $13 million for the mall Feb. 14 and took out a $10 million mortgage April 25. Kramer said owners haven’t decided about upgrades yet.
Owners bought the mall after it had fallen to a 37.9 percent occupancy rate by year-end 2013, down from 60.1 percent at the end of 2012.
About a week after the purchase, a representative said the group intended to reposition the shopping center’s tenants to the east side of the mall and was considering redevelopment options for the largely vacant west side of the mall.
Mason Asset Management recently distributed a marketing flier that says the mall was seeking tenants and has a gross leasable area of 1.39 million square feet. Kramer said the total square footage is 1.6 million square feet, including stores owned by Sears and Dillard’s.
High-profile tenants that continue to operate in the East Mall include Aeropostale, Victoria’s Secret, Bath & Body Works, GameStop, Kay Jewelers, Wet Seal, Foot Locker, Claire’s, LensCrafters and Jacksonville staple, Regency Health Foods.
Kramer said owners have redone some leases to keep tenants.
Another tenant is the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, which maintains a substation near JCPenney.
Customer traffic in the East Mall corridor appeared light mid-afternoon Wednesday, although the largest clusters of cars were at the entrances to JCPenney and Belk.
Kramer said customer traffic is soft, but not too shabby. Some retailers have opened their second or third stores within the mall, indicating optimism.
“We have to get the tenants in here first in order to bring customers in,” Kramer said. “We want to show them things are starting to change.”
Kramer said changes the past three months have been rapid. “We’re changing every day,” he said.
“The true answer is December,” Kramer said. The November-December holiday season is the bellwether for retailers, who generally log more than a third of their annual sales from Thanksgiving to Christmas, he said.
Kramer also said that as the mall continues to serve its existing customer base, it also will add diversity. “We’re bringing in different stores that reach different ethnicities,” he said.
Meanwhile the West Mall, from Belk to Sears, is open, although the leasing focus is on nontraditional retailers, Kramer said. For example, he said Torch Bearers Church should open about Aug. 1 in 15,000 square feet next to the Dillard’s clearance center.
The remaining retailers in that part of the mall, in addition to Dillard’s, are Sears, Regis Hair Salon and GNC. Sears and Dillard’s own their buildings, and Kramer said Regis and GNC said sales are strong enough that they want to stay put.
The children’s play area will remain in the West Mall for now. Kramer said no decision has been made about relocating it.
Kramer said he expects to start work next year on the West Mall.
“As we prove ourselves on this side, it’s stirring interest among retailers,” he said.
Also on the mall’s 100 acres at 9501 Arlington Expressway is the closed Piccadilly Cafeteria. Kramer and Anderson say they hope to interest another buffet restaurant in the 14,000-square-foot building.
Anderson also is leading an effort to shore up Regency’s community involvement.
She and Kramer outlined several efforts:
• Change thrown into the fountain in the East Mall will be donated to the Hubbard House domestic violence shelter.
• PACE Center for Girls can hand out materials over the summer for its programs, which assist at-risk girls and teenagers.
• Enroll America, a nonprofit that provides information about the Affordable Care Act, will set up for a day in July and do a larger event in November.
• A backpack giveaway for the fall school start
• A black-tie event the night before for Florida Black Expo that is scheduled Oct. 23 at the Prime Osborn Convention Center. From 1,300 to 1,500 attendees are expected at the Regency event.
• Trick-or-treating and a haunted house for Halloween.
• Christmas caroling and tree-decorating events for area churches and school children.
“We’re going back to what shopping centers used to be 25 years ago,” Kramer said.
“We want the community to know we’re happy to be here.”
Regency Square Mall new and expanding tenants
New or returning tenants that have opened in the East Mall include:
• $5 & Under opened about a month ago near JCPenney. The operators of the former Dollar Star by Dillard’s opened $5 & Under, whose specials Wednesday included wines sold four for $10.
• The Sunshine Express, the children’s train ride, re-opened Friday.
• Hair Bar recently opened near the mall’s front entrance. It sells hair pieces, extensions and jewelry.
• Rogers Jewelers opened June 13 in a former jewelry store near the food court. The owners also operate the Milan Jewelry kiosk near the store.
• Stag, a men’s urban ready-to-wear store, opened three weeks ago.
• Sports Mania could open Monday near JCPenney.
New or expanding tenants are expected to open include:
• Anointed Creations Art Gallery caters to adults and children who want to create on canvases, provides art classes and more. Adult events include wine and cheese. Children’s events include snacks. It should open about July 1.
• Boost Mobile could open in two weeks.
• Rainbow clothing will move across the corridor to a larger space about Aug. 1. It remains open in the existing location until then.
• A men and women’s hair salon, near JCPenney, should open in 45 days.
• A children’s clothing store could open before school starts.
• A sports bar and restaurant should open about Aug. 1 in the former Tilt game center near the food court, with interior and exterior entrances, allowing it to remain open till midnight seven days a week.
• A women’s ready-to-wear clothing store could open in the existing Rainbow store by Sept. 1.
There are eight tenants at the food court, leaving three more spaces to lease. New tenants are:
• Like Mama’s, comfort food, which opened a month ago near Subway.
• Captain O’s, seafood and garlic crabs, should open in mid to late July. The Captain O’s owner also operates Stag, another operation and possibly might open a fourth store.
• New York Pizza will take the Sbarro’s space and should open by Aug. 1. Sbarro’s closed more than 200 stores nationwide after filing this spring for bankruptcy protection.
Other tenants in negotiations:
• A comedy club, which would open near the front entrance in the former Boaters World location. It would have a separate outside entrance.
• Possibly two furniture stores, one from Jacksonville and one from Fort Lauderdale. One would open near Belk and the other near JCPenney. One or both leases could be signed in 60 days.