By Krystle Cantu – NTNewsNet.com
For years now, the Southwest Center Mall has been fighting to defend its reputation – and its life. For so many residents, this mall is a symbol of community pride, and a potential source for major economic development.
With new owners and a wave of community support, the mall is looking to regain its stature as a focal point for South Dallas business growth. “It gives this town a sense of identity,” said Tony Chaney, an advocate of Oak Cliff Community Development. “There are a lot of folks, like myself, who went there as a kid, that’s where we used to hang out. That mall is very important to the community.”
The 1.1 million square foot Southwest Center Mall currently sits off Camp Wisdom Rd, at the interchange of US 67 and Interstate 20, in the southwest area of Dallas. The mall, formerly known as “Redbird Mall,” has been around for 35 years, and survived four different owners.
In those 35 years, it has faced bankruptcy and near foreclosure on numerous occasions,which led to it‘s reference as a “dying” mall. The mall almost closed its doors forever when it lost its electrical and water functions because it couldn’t pay its utility bills due to the lack of tenants. Despite its rough and unsure past, this symbol of South Oak Cliff is one that longtime residents do not want to die.
The future of the mall is still on trial. However, it’s currently undergoing its fourth attempt at revitalization under new joint ownership of Madison Capitol and Cityview Commerical, a real estate arm of “Jimmy Jazz,” a New York-based urban street wear company owned by James Khezrie. “Ownership makes a big difference,” Edna Pemberton, community and marketing manager for Southwest Center Mall, and a community advocate for Oak Cliff.
“If you don’t have good ownership, you don’t have a vision.”
Issues With Past Ownership
The DeBartolo family, which has operated malls around the country, owned the mall for nearly 22 years. The family sold it in 1997 to NAAMCO Financial of California. NAAMCO made some minor renovations, and changed the controversial “Redbird” name of the mall, to what is now “Southwest Center Mall”. At the time, the mall had five anchor tenants: Montgomery Ward, Dillards, Sears, Foley’s and JC Penney. Over the years, the anchors have dropped to only three: Sears, Macy’s (which replaced Foley’s) and Burlington Coat Factory (which replaced Montgomery Ward.)
“There was times when the lights would get cut off and the trash didn’t get picked up, and we ended up losing a lot of anchor tenants that would’ve been here,” Pemberton said. “There were also many times that the escalators and elevators weren’t working and because of that you didn’t see people coming in.”
After a short period of time, NAAMCO sold the mall to a multi-mall owner Thomas Morris, who also owned Six Flags Mall in Arlington. According to Pemberton, Morris declared bankruptcy in 2008, and the mall then was in bad shape. The mall’s electricity was cut-off, due to non-payment. In early 2009, Dallas’ Economic Development Office worked with the Urban Land Institute to invite a group of property developers to assess the state of the mall and make recommendations. Months later, Khezrie, owner of Jimmy Jazz and Capitol Madison, stepped in to take the reigns of the “dying” mall, right before its doors closed forever.
New Owners And New Hope
It has been a year since Khezrie and Capital Madison took over and so far, the new ownership is working to Southwest Center’s benefit, local residents say. “He (Jimmy Jazz) is all into community service,” Pemberton said. “If you look at the mall compared to where it was last year…you see energy and people. That’s how it is now.”
Khezrie has cleaned up more than just trash in the mall. According to Pemberton, one of the other challenges the mall faced is its harsh reputation for crime and gang violence despite the name change. Both Jazz and Capital Madison have put forth great efforts to squash the “Redbird” reputation and rid the mall of crime of any sort.
“The first thing Jimmy went after was to get the neighborhood to buy back into the mall being safe,” Pemberton said. “I don’t care what you put in here, if your not safe it doesn’t work.” Police officers and security guards are now stationed both outside and inside the mall – both visibly and undisclosed.
“We want folks to feel like when they drive on this property that they are safe,” She said. “ Then they will think ‘If I’m safe I can shop.’” Pemberton said she has noticed an increase of shoppers since the increased security. “You see people hanging around,” she said. “It gives you a good feel for it, and lets the community know something has changed.”
Pemberton said another tactic the owner has instilled is the mall is hosting activities almost every weekend, to bring forth shoppers and attention to the mall, and remind the community that Southwest Center Mall still lives. “Activity brings activity,” she said. “We want to keep it to where the community says this is MY mall and this is where I’m going to shop.”
Pemberton said there is also talk of trying to get the name Redbird back to the mall, but that it could take some time. Because “Redbird” has had such a bad connation in the past, we have to prove that there is nothing wrong with Redbird,” she said. “The community has to keep coming in and buying into it.”
Past Tenants and Macy’s
Although the mall has suffered the loss of three anchor tenants, the three remaining tenants are standing their ground. Rumors have circulated of Macy’s wanting to join the three past tenants and flee Southwest Center for good. However, Joyce McMillan vice president/store manager for Macy’s at Southwest Center Mall, said otherwise.
“We’re here for the people,” she said. “It is not about what the media say. “We now have a mall owner that really cares about the mall and the direction that it goes, and we are going to do everything possible to continue to build on that.”
Macy’s along with the other two anchor tenants have renewed their leases with the mall. McMillan said Macy’s has no intentions of leaving and never has had intentions of leaving Southwest Center Mall.
“As long as the store is able to make money, Macy’s keeps their stores,” she said. “They don’t close a profitable building.”
McMillan said she foresees positive business for Macy’s as the mall continues on its upward agenda.
“For years there was no owner and the mall itself was held in trust by the city and nothing was being done, but things are starting to turn around,” she said. “Now, it’s a great place to be and safe place to shop.”
The new owners have plans for several proactive initiatives to take place over the next couple of years. According to Karl Zavitkovsky, director of the office of economic development in Dallas, Jimmy Jazz is looking toward re-tenanting and stabilization of existing in-line stores. The goal is to push for the majority if tenants to re-new their leases.
Zavitkosvsky said the mall is currently looking into building a “Fiesta Mundo” where the old Dillard’s property once was. “It’s going to be a two-story entertainment area,” he said. “They’re going to have a bowling alley and a bunch of restaurants and fast-food. Very family orientated.”
Zavitkosvky said, on the top story of a building would be an entertainment for guest to throw celebrations and enjoy pizza. The entertainment complex should be open for business around the first of the year.
Pemberton also announced plans for a theater addition in the mall within the next couple of years, if funds should surpass. Pemberton also mentioned that the mall and community is looking to tear down the once JCPenney lot and re-build.
“It’s been empty for too long,” she said. “ We need to put something there.”
“No Longer Trying, We Are Doing”
Though the revitalization process of the mall is still long unfinished, Pemberton is satisfied with the actions done so far. “Now we have about 101 walkers in the mall every morning,” She said. “They feel safe and their all cultured, all ages and from the neighborhood.”
Pemberton said the mall’s diverse-weekend activities range from showcases and Santa Cake Walks to Hip Hop artist “Trey Songz” dropping by to sign CD’s for fans, seem to also brighten Southwest Center’s prospects of the community buying back into the mall and accumulating shoppers near and far.
“If the mall goes, the whole area goes,” She said. “ We are not involved with trying to save the mall. We are already saving the mall.”