If nothing else, this'll be the last Southwest Center Mall item of the day -- only because there'll be nothing left to talk about till after the council returns from its summer recess. But Ron Natinksky, head of the city council's Economic Development Committee, called Unfair Park to discuss the day's developments -- specifically, new plans to maybe possibly dunno yet float Macy's some of the city's hard-earned dough-re-mi to keep the department store from scramming, despite spokesman Jim Sluzewski telling us today that the department store has "no plans to close any Macy's store anywhere in the country."
Natinsky isn't necessarily sold on Office of Economic Development Director Karl Zavitkovsky's suggestion that the city needs to step in and offer Macy's any kind of incentives. When I asked him how this came up in the first place, when Macy's says it's not going anywhere, the council member said he really can't talk about that. "Then I'd have to get into a discussion that took place in executive session," he says.
Then I asked him: Well, let's say Sears gets wind of this plan. What's to stop them from saying, Hey, if you're gonna give Macy's some money ...?
"You must have been reading my mind," Natinsky said: "That the same question I posed. Are we now going to get the business of bailing our every retailer who thinks they have a problem? I didn't see any hue and cry to save Prestonwood when it was scraped. And Valley View Mall is probably in just as bad a shape as Southwest Center. It doesn't have the same access problems, but walking through there is not much different than walking Southwest Center. At what point does the market come in?"
Natinsky says he's only given Zavitkovsky the "yellow light" to look at what Macy's would need to stick around. But even then he's cautious: After all, he says, the city just spent $92,700 to rent JCPenney for six months in order to stop a flea market from scratching that low-budget itch, and it accomplished approximately "zippo" in the word of the councilman.
"And what's interesting is, that was done to forestall the flea market that was going to go into the space, and now nobody wants to talk about it," Natinsky says. "It's not an issue." And Penney's owner Steve Rosenberg tells Unfair Park today that if the city doesn't want the space, then anything's fair game -- including that flea market.
Natinsky says he's sure at least one anchor tenant won't come begging for cash: Burlington Coat.
"They, as a company, have a knack for surviving where no one else does. Like the old Northtown Mall? Remember that?"
Hell yes, I tell him -- on Webb Chapel Road, between Forest Land and LBJ Freeway. Right by my house then and now. The mall of my childhood. Location of one of the best dates I ever had: the Alien re-release in the early 1980s. Had a great pet store there. Loved it. But, why do you ask?
"That mall was gonna be the big thing -- all pizazz," Natinsky says. "It went along for a few years and died the same death Southwest Center did, and the only piece they didn't scrape was Burlington, because they said, 'Leave us alone, we're doing fine.' So today you've got Burlington still in business attached to an office building.
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"It's like Prestonwood: They scraped it, they're rebuilding it, the market is taking place. It languished, and now every one of the friggin' pad sites is fulling up. I am not in the mall business, but it seems to me everywhere I go across the country, there are more and more of these easily accessible ... well they're more than just strip centers. But people like a place where they can zip in and out of a Best Buy or a Barnes & Noble. The days of parking in a mall parking lot and going to spend the day inside the mall, I don't know if they're here anymore. We may be chasing a dream that's not here anymore."
Natinsky is getting going.
"I am all for the market figuring out what do with Southwest Center. We've gone to some of the other big boxes, and they're all in Duncanville, so our chance of scoring some of those is relatively slim. On the other hand if they can fill up 300,000 square feet with independent retailers maybe it does work. Problem is, we're caught in how much incentive should the city give. ...
"Look at Garland: Firewheel Town Center, a so-called lifestyle mall. It's open spaces -- a lot of independent pad sites dumped onto a mall space. The difficult part is you have people like the Urban Land Institute come in. They're a great organization, but they're not developers. It'd be like me saying, 'I am going to design this project.' There's a big step between me designing it and me putting my money where my mouth is. If there is such a need for these retailers to be in that mall in that part of town, why are they not there? That's a free market question. Everyone wants to dodge it to keep the peace and save SWC mall."