Retail reimagined: Boulevard mall owner welcomes out-of-the-ordinary tenants

Shoppers leave the Boulevard Mall on Tuesday, April 28, 2015. The mall, which was sold to Sansone Companies in late 2013, is undergoing extensive exterior renovations.

Roland Sansone, owner of Boulevard mall, has landed nontraditional tenants to occupy long-empty spaces at the aging shopping hub: a call center, an Asian grocery, a pizza-and-games business and a hand-me-down retailer.

New Look Coming to Boulevard Mall

The renovated exterior of the Boulevard Mall is reflected in a puddle Tuesday, April 28, 2015. The mall, built in 1965, was sold to Sansone Companies in late 2013. Launch slideshow »

They’re part of a big-money shakeup that Sansone is betting will rejuvenate the 1.2 million-square-foot Boulevard, a once-dominant Las Vegas mall that slid in popularity, part of a rash of malls across America that have struggled and face an uncertain future.

Goodwill of Southern Nevada, best known for its network of donation centers and its stores with used clothing, furniture and other goods, announced Tuesday that it would open a 28,000-square-foot store at Boulevard.

It’s taking a portion of the two-level, roughly 200,000-square-foot space formerly occupied by department store Dillard's, which left the mall in 2008, creating its most notable vacancy.

Click to enlarge photo

A rendering of the Boulevard Mall remodeled.

Scheduled to open in late summer, Goodwill’s ground-floor store will be the largest in its 40-year history locally, officials said.

Moreover, it’s Goodwill’s first store in an enclosed shopping mall in the valley and possibly in the country.

“It’s not something you normally see,” said Chris Matlock, vice president of retail operations for Goodwill of Southern Nevada.

The nonprofit group, which also offers job-training and -placement programs, liked Sansone’s vision for the mall on Maryland Parkway near Desert Inn Road.

He wants to lure more shoppers by signing tenants not normally found in a traditional mall, while capitalizing on Boulevard’s reputation in the Hispanic community as Las Vegas’ “Latino mall.”

“We want to be a part of it,” Matlock said.

Sansone is chopping up the Dillard’s space among several tenants. He said call-center operator Sutherland Global Services was planning to occupy the entire second floor, taking 103,000 square feet, and John's Incredible Pizza Co. would open a 60,000-square-foot restaurant on the first floor.

Sutherland Global, based in Rochester, N.Y., plans to open by this summer, Sansone says. In March, Gov. Brian Sandoval’s Office of Economic Development approved a tax incentive package reportedly totaling nearly $300,000 for the company.

John’s Incredible Pizza offers a buffet and themed dining rooms, as well as bumper cars, bowling, mini-golf and other games and attractions.

It’s expected to open by year’s end.

Sansone said he gutted the Dillard’s space before he lined up any tenants, spending more than $2 million to prepare it for possible users. Building out John’s Incredible Pizza's space will take another $9.5 million, and Sansone said he was “contributing a substantial amount” to that, though he declined to say how much.

It’s common for commercial-property landlords in Las Vegas to help pay for new tenants’ interior work.

Meanwhile, Sansone also has signed a lease with 99 Ranch Market, an Asian supermarket chain, to take the roughly 33,000-square-foot space formerly occupied by Circuit City. It plans to open in September or October, he said.

Circuit City, a once-dominant U.S. electronics chain, went bankrupt in fall 2008 after the national financial crisis began, and by spring 2009 had closed all of its stores.

A few years ago, Boulevard was just 75 percent leased. It’s now about 85 percent occupied, and when the new tenants move in, it will be about 95 percent filled, according to management.

“We’re getting close,” Sansone said.

Sansone, president of Henderson-based Sansone Companies, bought Boulevard in November 2013 for $54.5 million from lenders who listed the mall at a price of “best offer.”

He acquired 56 acres of the 75-acre mall, giving him about 780,400 square feet of space. Big-box retailers Sears and Macy’s owned their stores.

Locals have often dismissed Boulevard as dated and run-down. But several months after he bought it, Sansone said he wanted to restore the mall to its “former glory” with a $25 million overhaul involving aesthetic upgrades and new features, such as free Wi-Fi in the food court and a farmers market with a playground area.

Boulevard, two miles east of the Strip, opened in the 1960s and was hugely popular through the ‘70s, turning Maryland Parkway into the valley’s premiere retail corridor. The owners expanded it several times.

But the mall eventually lost its standing with shoppers, who fled for fast-growing suburbs and Fashion Show mall on the Strip, which opened in 1981.

Boulevard also had financial woes as retailers packed up and left.

The lenders who sold the mall to Sansone had acquired it from New York-based Rouse Properties, taking ownership through a process that lets people acquire debt-laden real estate without going through the lengthy foreclosure process.

Around the country, many enclosed malls, particularly high-end ones, are thriving. But in the past five years, more than two dozen have closed and dozens of others are at risk of shutting down, according to a recent New York Times story.

A key reason for the industry’s struggles is the country’s oversupply of retail space, the Times reported.

And if any area exemplifies rampant construction of shopping hubs, it’s Las Vegas.

Besides Boulevard and Fashion Show, local malls include Galleria at Sunset, Meadows Mall, Town Square, Downtown Summerlin, Tivoli Village, the District at Green Valley Ranch, the two Premium Outlets, and many others in Strip resorts.