Mon | Dec 11, 2017

Mall Plaza transformation heads to the finish line

Published:Friday | October 27, 2017 | 12:00 AMNeville Graham
Construction workers add a new extension to the Mall Plaza in Kingston, on Tuesday, October 24. The project is to be finalised by mid-November.

In the past few months, store owners and shoppers have been contending with cavernous excavations, dust and debris, and the hum of construction as the owners of Mall Plaza execute a transformation of the popular shopping complex.

The renovations have been ongoing since February, and store owners tell the Financial Gleaner that they have been losing business as the work progresses.

Still, Michael Ammar Jr, a director of Ammar's department store, says the project is a necessary inconvenience.

"It has had a very negative effect on business over the summer, but I must emphasise that what they are doing is necessary and we just have to bite the bullet," Ammar said.

"There is no way of fixing the plaza without making a mess. We've already seen what they've done at The Village, and now we are seeing what they're doing at the Mall - it should be good because it's a bigger plaza," he told the Financial Gleaner.

Mall Plaza is part of a string of separately owned malls that line Constant Spring Road from South Avenue to Half-Way Tree square. They were built in the late 1960s to early 1970s and have satisfied the retreating shoppers who had become wary of doing business in the hustle and bustle of downtown Kingston.

Mall Plaza is managed by a company called Fidcom on behalf of owners Rock Investments. The first phase of the redevelopment, which is expected to wrap up by November 15, represents $100 million of investment, according to Fidcom CEO Cherane Hamilton - just ahead of the peak holiday shopping season. Financing for the project comes from internal resources and a loan from National Commercial Bank, she said.

Fidcom also manages The Village Plaza next door on behalf of owners Executive Investments. That plaza was renovated last year for $80 million, said the Fidcom boss, who noted that Mall was a larger and more challenging project.

All three companies - Fidcom, Executive and Rock - are connected through Mahfood family members, who own the two plazas. Hamilton said, however, that Fidcom also manages other complexes that are not family-owned.

Renovations needed

The renovations at Mall were well needed, according to Ammar, who said the complex had become more than a little "long in the tooth", with a drab appearance compounded by flooding incidents, lack of water at times, and a gradual but steep decline in business.

"We put in underground water tanks and correct drainage in addition to redoing the arrangements for sewerage," said Hamilton.

"It really is trying to make it better not only for our tenants, but the patrons that are coming into the plaza," she said.

Alongside Ammar's, some of the popular businesses at the plaza includes Woolworth's, Collectibles shoe and clothing stores, Mall Pharmacy, ElectroWorld, Anne Martin, Child's Play, Sangsters and American Jewellery Company.

Before the renovations began, The Mall housed 28 shops, including a popular food court.

Most of the shops on the second floor of the building, where the food court was housed, remained open, with Ammar's giving up its top floor to make way for three other stores.

By the time this phase of the repairs is finished, Hamilton expects between five and 10 more stores to be added in some of the available space. She said Fidcom itself also gave up its office space at the complex to house another store.

The new Mall Plaza will feature an outdoor elevator to facilitate access to the upper floor by the physically challenged, older persons, and parents with young children.

The food court is also due for a makeover, but that is scheduled for another phase of the renovations.

The Fidcom boss adds that her company has kept the communication channels open with tenants as the fast-paced repairs progressed, to keep them in the loop on the status of the project.

"There are constant reminders about the sort of improvements that we are putting in," she said.

This was confirmed by Ammar, who said shop owners get "constant, weekly updates about what is being done and what is to come, and so on".

The businessman is hoping the renovations will return the complex to its heyday.

"It's something that we applaud, the fact that the owners are confident to make that kind of investment, because it will take those two plazas right back to the top of the heap where they belong," Ammar said.

"My hope is for increased business for all the stores that are in there. I know it will happen because you hear all the customers, while they complain bitterly about the construction, in the next breath they say it will look good when it is done," he said.

The new-look storefronts are already in place with larger, full glass treatments that "open up the store windows", according to Hamilton.

"It looks like 2017 USA," Ammar added.

The Mall is usually locked down by 6 p.m., but the refreshed plaza will return with extended opening hours, Fidcom said.

neville.graham@gleanerjm.com