New West Oaks owners has big plans for troubled mall
By Sandra Pedicini
OCOEE — The new owner of West Oaks Mall vows to reinvent it into a thriving, family-friendly destination.
But Steven Maksin's Las Vegas-based private-equity firm, Moonbeam Capital Investments, will have a lot of obstacles to overcome, retail analysts say.
West Oaks is a victim of the economic downturn, new competition and crime. Many residents are avoiding the mall, which is about to lose its second anchor, Sears, later this month.
"I don't see where the customer base is big enough to support that mall in this economy," said Britt Beemer, an Orlando-based retail consultant.
Maksin insists he will turn things around by aggressively pursuing national tenants and making deals they can't refuse.
"It's a challenging task, but it's doable," said Maksin, a tax attorney who divides his time between New York City and Vegas.
A longtime real-estate investor, Maksin began scooping up cheap, troubled properties across the country about two years ago. Maksin said he has increased occupancy at plazas in other states by bringing in tenants such as discount chains.
Maksin has talked with a college and Chuck E. Cheese's about moving into West Oaks, which Moonbeam purchased for $15.9 million in November. A grocer could possibly help fill the mall, he said.
Moonbeam also is in discussions with national tenants to fill the former Borders and old Chevy's restaurant, stand-alone buildings on the mall property. Maksin said he wants to sponsor local community organizations and events, including "high tea with mom" and events for kids.
Many national chains have left West Oaks. Winter Garden Village at Fowler Groves, an open-air center seven miles west, now has many of the popular national retailers.
An Orlando Sentinel analysis of West Oaks last year found that it generated more than twice as many police calls as Orlando Fashion Square, a similarly sized mall in east Orlando that also has lost many tenants.
Maksin said he would like to increase police presence but noted West Oaks already spends twice as much on security as other malls he owns. West Oaks might have to remove some tenants that are attracting a rough crowd, he said.
It's something he has done before.
At Candler-McAfee Plaza in Decatur, Ga., for example, Moonbeam closed a flea market, Maksin said.
"It changed dramatically not only the perception but the reality of the plaza," Maksin said. "You can take away some of that unnecessary tenant base and shopper base, and the mall changes completely."
Some communities where Maksin has bought malls, however, are still waiting.
"There's nothing that's come about,'' said Larry Kauffman, owner of Eye Deals at the Burlington (N.J.) Center Mall, which Moonbeam acquired last summer. "We haven't heard anything from the owners, so we don't know. We're kind of left out in
But at the Greeley Mall in Colorado, things appear to be progressing more quickly.
"I think we're seeing their investment slightly paying off," Greeley Assistant City Manager Becky Safarik said. "We're sensing there's a corner here turning."
New small tenants have come in, and there were reports that merchants had a strong Christmas season, she said.
Maksin said it will take about a year and a half to get big national tenants into the malls.
If his group helps West Oaks, it wouldn't be the first time a new owner has stepped in to improve an ailing mall it took over from General Growth Properties, a Chicago-based real-estate trust.
In Oviedo, city officials say they like the changes at its namesake mall since CW Capital brought in new management.
Upgrades at the mall, which CW Capital is now selling, include a children's play area, an influx of community events and new tenants such as a Paul Mitchell cosmetology school.
Smaller firms such as Maksin's can make struggling suburban malls much more of a priority, said Ray Hayhurst, senior director of retail-capital markets for Cushman & Wakefield in Orlando.
Though they may not have as much clout with national tenants, he said, "they've got the time, effort and energy and dream to try to make it happen. They could potentially succeed where General Growth may not have. … It will be because of enthusiasm, and that goes a long way."
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