Hurricane María dealt a severe blow to the Outlet 66 Mall, which owners responded to by making a new start with a $62 million renovation to turn the Canóvanas shopping center into what they are calling a “retailtainment” destination.Justin Tirri, president of The Outlet 66 Mall.
In an exclusive interview with this media outlet, Justin Tirri, president of The Outlet 66 Mall, said the mall suffered $66 million in damages from Hurricane María’s wrath in September 2017, which crippled about 80 percent of the shopping center.
“It was scary, there were so many uncertainties,” he said of the days after the storm.
But rather than close permanently, mall executives turned to FirstBank and the insurance company to rebuild and reopen.
Before Hurricane María struck, the Outlet 66 Mall had 84 stores, including kiosks. Post-storm, about 14 tenants chose to leave, giving mall operators the opportunity to rethink the concept. Aside from removing the Old San Juan façades, the mall is getting new floors, new entrances and a permanent exhibit of sculptures made out of car parts allusive to movie characters.
The retail executive said the company had been trying to migrate to a mixed concept for about five years, but had the challenge of negotiating with tenants.
“When the storm came, there was a clause in the lease that allowed us to relocate or terminate leases, so the ball was in our court,” Tirri said.
So, the company moved to negotiate with tenants, and in the process, made space for what will now be 85,000 square feet of entertainment options — or 16 percent of the mall’s total 512,000 square-foot complex. The mall is 80 percent occupied at the moment, Tirri confirmed.
First indoor electric carting complex
A first of its kind in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean is the new K1 Speed & CXC Simulator Experience, an indoor electric carting complex for children and adults. The simulator area features 10 high-definition racing booths that offer the excitement of the track, which can be combined with virtual reality glasses to round out the experience.
Across the corridor will be an eight-lane bowling alley, an arcade and a new restaurant called Karma’s, which has a capacity for 380 customers, a wine bar, a beer garden, and cigar room. The space also features party rooms for private events.
The entertainment component of the mall is under management by Powerhouse Entertainment, which is creating 160 direct and indirect jobs.
Further down the same building will be a rope course for people of all ages, and several private event rooms for meetings and VIP gatherings. An electric drag racing complex is under construction outside the mall, to appeal to customers with a need for speed.
“We had been attending many seminars of the International Council of Shopping Centers, in which we learned about trends in the U.S. mainland,” Tirri said. “People are purchasing on their phones and online, so there’s a change going on.”
“The industry is calling millennials trendsetters, but they don’t shop, they come to the mall to walk around. So entertainment is a big component now for brick-and-mortar retailers,” Tirri said.
The mall’s makeover — which will also eventually include a change in name — should be 85 percent complete by mid-October, in time for the upcoming holiday season.
“Our expectation is to create something that doesn’t exist anywhere else on the island, or even in the Caribbean. We had to come up with a concept that would get people from the metro area to come to the mall, which is hard because they have everything they need where they are now.”
For now, the mall operators are focused on incorporating entertainment options, and once that takes off and the foot traffic is in place, they will pursue more tenants.
“We don’t know if we’ll keep the outlet concept. It’s limited on a large scale because we could have other tenants here, but they won’t come because we’re outlets. We’re thinking about a hybrid concept,” Tirri said. “We’re turning adversity into advantage.”