Andy Weiner, president of Weiner Development and the new owner of The Pines mall, plans to turn things around at the mall and has already enhanced security and spoken to potential store owners to fill some of the 50 empty spaces at the center.
Weiner met with a group of business and civic leaders at the Pine Bluff Convention Center Tuesday evening to provide an update on his plans and solicit community input on the development’s future.
“I have been in Pine Bluff for five weeks and my impression is that this is a great community,” Weiner said. “Not a good community but a great community. I really mean that.”
Weiner said that he has spoken with representatives of 11 potential new stores so far, but cautioned that this did not necessarily mean success.
“There is a big difference between interviewing and opening a store,” Weiner said. “There are 50 empty stores out there right now, which means I can help people start a business if the business plan they present is a good plan. I will offer people with the right plan free or reduced rent to start out.”
Weiner said that he plans to make the mall a center for community events.
“We want to create a regional kid’s zone for children ages one to seven,” Weiner said. “We want to have kid’s events and even bring in businesses that cater to children.”
“We want to keep people here in Pine Bluff so that they spend their money here and not in Little Rock,” Weiner said. “People also need to know that they can’t keep stores like Dillard’s, JcPenney’s and Sears for granted.”
“We want to make the mall a place for the community,” Weiner said. “We are going to let church and civic groups use the common areas for free. We have done this in Vicksburg and it has been very successful.”
Weiner said that the first action taken by his company was to beef up security at the mall.
“This mall is not a dangerous mall,” Weiner said. “This mall is not dangerous at all but it doesn’t matter what I think, it matters what (someone else) thinks. So, we are going to change the perception of security at the mall.”
“We bought the mall on Dec. 29 and the next day we arranged to have a law enforcement officer in the theater on Friday and Saturday nights in addition to the regular security we have,” Weiner said. “We want to have it so that you can go to the 9:00 show with your spouse and not be disrupted by young kids. If you don’t exhibit good behavior then you are not going to the mall. This isn’t a public place, this is private property.”
Weiner said he has worked closely with Ward 1 Alderman Irene Holcomb and Pine Bluff Mayor Carl A. Redus Jr., to establish a good relationship between the mall and the city in order to develop strategies that will save the mall and in the process benefit the community.
“The mayor has said that he will help me save this mall,” Weiner said. “There are some things I will need from the city and he and the city council will make it happen.”
Weiner said that he has spent his career in the retail and commercial property arena, with his headquarters located in Houston.
“I grew up in the clothing store business,” Weiner said. “I have managed clothing stores and for the past 15 years I have been in the shopping center business. For the past seven or eight years my focus has been on communities like Pine Bluff where it is easy to identify the market dynamics.”
Weiner said that Pine Bluff’s market dynamics are primarily tied up in the area of the mall and the businesses that have grown up around it and the area around the Wal-Mart Supercenter and the businesses around it.
“In bigger cities that is not so easy,” Weiner said.
Weiner said that in Pine Bluff the community is aligned with the success of the mall.
“How do we turn it around?” Weiner asked. “The investors want it, the city wants it and the community wants it.”
Weiner said that he wants to create a group of between five and 15 members of the community to act as an advisory body for him on issues related to the mall.
“That way when I have a problem, and there will be problems, I can sit down for an hour with people who know what’s going on.”
“Part of my strategy in turning around the mall is to tell you that we are going to figure out something new,” Weiner said. “We are going to make it better than it is today and appropriate for today’s world. Some people that I’ve met need a better attitude about this. Attitude is everything. I can’t turn it around by myself. There are going to be a lot of problems; I guarantee it. But, we are going to come out of it with something better.”
Weiner said that he decided to buy the mall from General Growth Properties Inc. because he believed it to be a sound financial decision for his investors and his company.
“People give me money to make decisions on purchasing malls,” Weiner said. “Sixteeen months ago I bought a mall in Vicksburg, Miss. I required local investors and I have 17. Anyone who wants to invest in this mall can contact me.”
Weiner said that the key challenge for turning around the financial fortunes of the mall is to make it relevant to today’s shopper.
“This type of mall would never be built today,” Weiner said. “It was a good business model 25 years ago but not today. Now people expect to get out of their car walk right into a store.”
Weiner said that he plans to have 15 new stores within three years, including three in 2012, five in 2013 and seven in 2014.
“We are planning for the turnaround to take three years,” Weiner said. “So the key here is for everbody to have some patience.”
Weiner said that a key component of his effort to bring the mall back into profitability is the introduction of a new signage program.
“We plan to create something so dramatically different for stores at the mall that they won’t want to leave,” Weiner said. “This will also make a compelling story to those who are considering coming to the mall. We want to have the best signage program of any mall in the state of Arkansas.”
“There are signage rules in the city but the mayor and city council members I have talked to are ready to have a world-class signage program,” Weiner said. “This will give stores on the verge a reason to stay. I can tell you that there are representatives of big stores in the city this week and if I can show them this sign program is coming, the chances that they will come here skyrocket.”
“Signage is everything,” Weiner said. “It is Retail 101. We won’t get the big name stores today but we need to get national attention to attract them.”