Changes underway for once-popular local mall

January 12, 2010 4:56:28 PM PST
A once popular shopping spot has slowly gone downhill. Now, big changes are in the works for the former Sharpstown Mall. Developers are hoping to bring people back to the mall, and help out the community. New shops and other features are going in at the mall off of Highway 59 and Bellaire, and it's even being renamed the PlazAmericas. On a day when the old signs for Sharpstown Center are coming down, the new signs for what is now PlazAmericas go up.

PlazAmericas spokesperson Chris Chumley said, "Anybody who knows the back story to the mall knows that it's been distressed for a number of years."

Chumley is with Grupo Zocalo, the retail arm of Houston-based Boxer Properties, which specializes in turning around distressed properties. When acquired by the group in February, only 40 % of the mall was occupied. The roof leaked and only one of the seven escalators worked. A $10 million renovation project is being done here to make the facility, cleaner, safer and more attractive, particularly to the Hispanic community.

Chumle said, "Fifty-two percent of the population within a three mile radius is Hispanic. The mall has not been traditionally used by the population, the hispanic population that's within a close proximity to it."

When built out the new facility will have 350 stores -- double what it does now -- plus a church, a 2,100 square foot free kids play area and a 73,000 square foot "mercado" filled with dozens of smaller businesses.

"It would be good," said customer Veronica Igwe. "I think it would probably upgrade the neighborhood a little bit."

Customers we found are pleased with the notion that they'll have a nicer place to shop and bring their kids.

"I think it's better now," said customer Vianey Lopez.

Store owners like Kevin Dang admit the targeting of Hispanic customers will lead them to change things.. He says his jewelry store will carry different inventory, but that, he says, is a small price to pay for the increase in business.

"We don't care if they're black, white, Mexican," Dang said. "As long as they bring more people here, it's better for us."

They've still got a ways to go on this project. All is not expected to be complete for three years. But it is expected to create about 500 jobs. Developers say a similar project in Fort Worth has been very successful over the last five years.