Constructora Sambil, the Venezuelan developer behind the proposed $400 million mega-shopping center in Guaynabo, is hopeful it will be able to break ground on the project this year after the Puerto Rico Supreme Court denied a motion for reconsideration presented by Plaza Las Américas that sought to paralyze the mall’s construction.
The court’s verdict released late last week shot down Plaza’s petition to overturn the Appellate Court’s consent of the Puerto Rico Planning Board’s endorsement of the project’s Environmental Impact Statement — a fundamental element in the permitting process required for development projects.
Attorneys for Plaza Las Américas, the largest mall in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, also unsuccessfully asked the Supreme Court to rescind the resolution issued by the Planning Board in March 2009.
In an interview with News is my Business, Robert Cohen, a high-ranking Constructora Sambil executive, said the court’s determination could finally lead to the project’s groundbreaking later this year.
The proposed mixed-use project that encompasses 550,000 square feet of retail space, a 200-room hotel, a 100,000 square-foot office building and 150 residences, has been on hold since the company bought the land adjacent to the Guaynabo landfill in 2005. The ambitious complex could take about three years to complete.
“We wanted to grow outside Venezuela and we believe in Puerto Rico and in our product, which is a different concept from the traditional shopping center,” Cohen said. “Our shopping center is more of a social gathering place, more familiar.”
Constructora Sambil’s business model also represents a change-up from what is usually done at large-scale shopping centers: prioritizing on leasing space to larger “anchor” stores at discount fees that are usually passed on to the smaller tenant.
“Our mix focuses on the small- and mid-sized retailer. We believe our anchors should be fun and entertainment, rather than the larger stores. That way, we can be more competitive with our leasing fees,” he said.
While Sambil has been caught in a legal battle to do business in Puerto Rico, it has moved forward with its expansion plans throughout the Caribbean. Earlier this year, the company inaugurated its $160 million Sambil Santo Domingo mall in the Dominican Republic and has already signed off on a $100 million retail complex in Curaçao.
“While in Puerto Rico we have been throwing away money in legal costs that make no sense and benefit almost no one, in the Dominican Republic and Curaçao we’ve received a king’s welcome,” Cohen said, while reiterating that Sambil has no plans to walk away from the local market.
“Puerto Rico has to be the mecca for tourism and retail for the U.S., and right now, it is not,” he said.