It’s been another busy year at Plaza Las Américas, as its management cut overhead, carried out mall upgrades to the tune of $5 million and welcomed new stores while others closed.
Negotiations are currently underway with five to 10 companies interested in setting up shop at the largest mall in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, according to Plaza Las Américas executives.
Potential new tenants span new and traditional retail concepts.
“We could be making an announcement within the next three to six months,” General Manager Franklin Domenech anticipated in a conference call during which Leasing Director Rafael Ruíz joined him.
Domenech said lowering energy costs is uppermost since they represent one of the biggest expenses at the multi level, 1.8 million square-foot mall.
He did not specify how much these costs are but said they amount to “several millions.”
“We’re maintaining a focus on energy,” Domenech said.
Steps taken this year to contain power costs included switching to LED lighting in certain interior areas of the mall and making air conditioning systems more efficient by replacing chillers and installing variable frequency drives.
The drive toward energy efficiency is an ongoing campaign and Domenech said management will continue to look for helpful new technology.
This year’s mall upgrades included replacing elevators, remodeling the entrance to Banco Santander, and creating a children’s play area next to Sears department store.
These improvements, along with power-saving initiatives, amounted to an investment of approximately $5 million.
Plaza Las Américas, which draws between 13 million to 15 million visitors each year, is not immune to the economic crisis engulfing Puerto Rico.
Recession leads to flat sales
The island’s 11-year recession drags on and the government recently entered into an in-court process of restructuring its astronomical public debt in excess of $70 billions.
Domenech said while some individual stores may be performing better than others, overall sales at the mall have been “basically flat” this year compared with 2016.
The outlook for the holiday season, a key period that for the retail sector traditionally represents up to 30 percent of its yearly sales, is uncertain right now and will depend on how the economy performs over the next few months, he said.
Plaza Las Américas’s current occupancy level of 92 percent is expected to reach 94 percent by the end of the year.
Two major brands leaving the shopping mall this year were Brooks Brothers, which did not to renew its lease, and BCBG Max Azria, currently in the process of vacating its space. Known for its party dresses, the fashion house filed for bankruptcy earlier in March.
New additions are Olive Garden, Librería Norberto, Ola Yogurt Bar, NYX, Fashions to Go and Time-Out. Upcoming store openings include Eye Center, Zumiez, Red Lobster, and Marshall’s. Eye Center, scheduled to open in October, is a local brand devoted to eyewear.
Also opening in October is Zumiez, an American specialty clothing store founded in 1978 and geared to the action sports market. It sells gear and clothing for skaters, snowboarders and surfers.
A chain of more than 700 casual dining restaurants, Red Lobster’s main fare is seafood. Its first outlet on the island is expected to open in November, almost a year after its originally scheduled opening date.
Ruiz blamed the delay on a change in chain ownership that prompted a redesign of the restaurant.
Marshall’s, which sells brand name products at reduced prices, signed up with Plaza at the end of July and immediately set to work on its 45,400-square-foot space formerly occupied by Sports Authority, a sporting goods retailer that went into bankruptcy last year.
With plans to open sometime between October and December, Marshall’s is changing lighting, ceilings, floors, and renovating the dressing rooms.
The companies that Plaza is currently negotiating with include local, stateside and international brands, according to Ruiz.
The mix of concepts they represent embody the variety consumers seek at Plaza Las Américas, he said.
The mall touts itself as “the center for everything and for everyone.” Meanwhile, its marketing department is already making preparations for the upcoming holiday season such as lining up festive activities for the public.
The mall traditionally closes for Thanksgiving but plans to open its doors at 12:01 a.m. on Black Friday, as it did last year. Most stores plan to do likewise, Domenech said.
Service companies with offices at the mall will keep to their regular schedules, he added.