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Developers plan for new renovations as 41-year-old mall closes its doors

Jan. 23, 2001

Changes to offer Waco more shopping options

By MARY PHAM

Reporter

'TOTAL LIQUIDATION, GOING OUT OF BUSINESS.' The fluorescent signs hanging outside of Montgomery Ward can be seen from Bosque Boulevard. The Lake Air Mall is closing, and developers are planning for something unique on the property.

'We're trying to give Waco something they don't have,' said Jim Peevey, a local realtor and employee of Hill-Granados Retail Partners, who bought the Lake Air property last June. 'It's going to be pretty, because we are going to beautify the area, and we're giving people an alternative to going somewhere else, like Dallas, to shop. People will want to shop here now.'

Located at Wooded Acres Drive and Bosque Boulevard, Lake Air Mall was built in 1960. A Goldstein-Migel department store anchors the west end of the mall and a Montgomery Ward anchors the east. Montgomery Ward has declared bankruptcy, so it will not be part of the new Lake Air mall, but Goldstein-Migel will remain.

Most of the businesses at the Lake Air Mall have recently relocated. Store owners were told they could stay through the Christmas season, and the new year brought about a virtually empty mall.

'We weren't going to mess up Christmas for anyone, but any time there's a change in ownership, people get antsy,' said Nancy Parker, a spokeswoman for Hill-Granados. 'People were offering really good deals for them to move, so those moves might be a win-win situation for everybody. The retailer will profit, and the center bringing them in will also profit.'

Ed Carter, owner of Focus on Travel, had been at the Lake Air Mall location for 11 years. Carter has been at his new location on Valley Mills for about a week.

'While we were at Lake Air, business was great. We regretted that we had to leave,' Carter said. 'Those [customers] that have been with us will continue to stay with us. We may lose walk-ins, but we'll also be getting new customers that now know we're here.'

Despite the change of location, Carter has a very positive outlook on his new place of business.

'We're going to do fine because we have an attitude of success,' Carter said.

Darvin Little, owner of Darvin's Fine Jewelers, moved his business out of the Lake Air Mall after Christmas. Little was a tenant of the Lake Air Mall for 31 years, and has been at his new location on Wooded Acres for almost two and a half weeks.

Little started looking for a new location around mid-August, nearly a month after the Lake Air retailers were informed of the new ownership and future renovation plans.

Like Carter, Little is optimistic about his new place of business.

'I was there in the glory days of Lake Air Mall. I've been 31 years in the business, some people are going to come see me regardless of where I am,' Carter said.

The mall was purchased for $5.95 million from Triple Net Properties on June 30, 2000. Hill-Granados plans to turn the Lake Air property into the largest open-air shopping center in Central Texas.

'The indoor, air-conditioned concept is going away. People aren't really building those anymore,' Parker said. 'It (Lake Air Mall) is going to be turned into a power center. There won't be indoor access from store to store; instead every store will have drive-up, outdoor access. What's driving this development is the retailers.'

Parker projects that the earliest renovation will begin this summer and will possibly be done by next Christmas.

'I think they would like to have it ready to go by the 2002 Christmas season, so it will be up and running for the holidays,' Parker said.

The new Lake Air Mall will reportedly be more appealing to Baylor students. Peevey says there are ongoing negotiations with four or five leases, and 'some names coming in will be very cool.'

'It will be something to service Baylor students, downtown and the communities around the mall. Every part of the city will go to it because it has that much to offer,' Peevey said.

Peevey believes it is a huge compliment and very encouraging for Waco to have 'that potential here that we can attract this kind of outside corporate money.'

Nancy Parker said that it is key for Waco residents 'to know that this effort is a direct result of the new Business Development Section of the Waco Chamber of Commerce, the mayor, and the city council to revitalize Waco. Waco should be applauded for being organized and making efforts to bring this about. This is the kind of thing that far thinking people do.'

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