Face-lift to create ‘a brand new mall’
Renovations will be biggest ever for The Empire
Jodi Schwan/The Argus Leader
The Empire Mall will get an entirely new look next year after the biggest renovation in its 37-year history – a project one consultant says should lure more national retailers.
It includes a complete overhaul of the interior and exterior and will begin after the holiday shopping season, mall executives announced Tuesday during a news conference. Overall costs have not yet been determined because the design hasn’t been finalized. The mall will remain open throughout, with most of the construction at night.
“If people haven’t visited us, in a year they will not recognize the place,” said Stephen Kingsley, vice president of operations for Simon Property Group, which bought The Empire Mall earlier this year. “We’re really proud of what the design team pulled together to create a refreshed, improved product.”
The Empire Mall is not alone as malls in smaller markets across the country are being upgraded in hopes of enticing retailers that are starting to grow again, said Jeff Green, an Arizona-based national retail consultant. The look of the facility is an important aspect for recruiting new shops.
“I think this is going to reap the benefit of bringing in better and higher-quality tenants,” he said. “They want to go into a mall that helps them showcase the quality retailer they are.”
Green said Sioux Falls could start seeing new retailers as soon as 2014, because Simon will be able to tout the remodel, tell a new story and talk about the positive economy and growth in Sioux Falls.
While the mall did not announce any new retailers Tuesday, general manager Dennis Gilliam said there are many negotiations in the works, and the planned improvements should help deals get done.
“Of course it’s going to make a difference,” he said. “People should want to be a part of it.”
The main exterior entrance will be redesigned to feature a two-story glass facade with an extended awning for dropping off customers. New signs, lighting and landscaping will be included along with pavers and stamped concrete.
“To let people know they’re arriving at a place different than a city street,” Kingsley said.
The look inside will also change, with new ceilings, flooring, common seating areas, restrooms and signs. The food court will be reconfigured with a path through the middle so shoppers don’t cross paths with people waiting in line at restaurants. New seating will include booths and high tables.
We’re going to essentially bring a brand new mall to the area,” Kingsley said.
The children’s play area also will be rebuilt.
“With finer finishes, a wood exterior, bench seating, climbing, padded carpeting, and we typically do an interactive unit at one end so kids can play with things that move,” Kingsley said.
The Empire Mall is the epicenter of retail attraction for a 200-mile radius surrounding Sioux Falls, and this investment by Simon shows the company’s optimism for future growth, said Ron Nelson, owner of Nelson Property Consultants in Sioux Falls. The Empire Mall is the biggest property taxpayer in Minnehaha County and is a large source of sales tax revenue for the city.
“This thing hasn’t really come close to even getting tired yet and so for a major investment of this type, it’s an endorsement of the current strength in the performance and their expectations that the future is only going to get brighter,” he said of the mall.
Gilliam said of the project, “This is the most visual impact that this area of town has seen in 37 years.”
The improvements are welcomed by the city, Mayor Mike Huether said.
“We’re thrilled,” he said. “This mall has been a workhorse for not only this city but for this state and this entire region, and we need it to be successful.”
Lori Charette, business manager of the salon Offbeat Glamour, said she hopes the improvements also attract new tenants.
“Anything that’s a draw,” she said.
The salon opened earlier this year in the wing that’s anchored by the Xcite Family Fun Center. Charette said it can be difficult for customers to find her business, so she hopes the renovations help direct people to wings they might be missing.
“It’s a mental block,” Charette said. “So they’re going to open it up and make it more visible. It’s going to have better flow for our customers, and that’s going to be nice.”
Charette moved to Sioux Falls from Florida to start the business and said the refreshed look revealed in drawings Tuesday reminds her of out-of-state malls.
“Most all our malls (in Florida) are Simon (Property Group) malls, so bringing this up to par is exciting.”
Kingsley, has visited Sioux Falls four times since the company acquired the mall in January.
He called Sioux Falls a “very, very strong” market.
“The uniqueness of this property is its significant draw as far as geography, but it also has a significant tourist draw … so our mission for the renovation is to appeal to both,” Kingsley said.
Reporter Sarah Reinecke contributed to this article.