Economy Watch: San Antonio Mall Aims for Better Times With Redevelopment

Though San Antonio hasn't suffered nearly as much during the recession as other warm-location cities such as Phoenix and Las Vegas, its economy and its retail activity slowed with the U.S. economy.

August 23, 2010
By Dees Stribling, Contributing Editor

Finding an optimistic retail developer–or redeveloper, as the case may be–is no small task these days. But the redevelopers of Wonderland of the Americas mall (formerly Crossroads Mall) in San Antonio are betting not only that the economy will improve, but that their revised retail concept will attract shoppers to a property that has been through a tough few years.

Though San Antonio hasn’t suffered nearly as much during the recession as other warm-location cities such as Phoenix and Las Vegas, its economy and its retail activity slowed with the U.S. economy. Few retail projects are currently being developed there, but the new local owners of 742,000-square foot Wonderland of the Americas began redevelopment of the vintage 1960s property last year by pursuing a twin strategy: refurbish the conventional regional mall, which is anchored by Target, Burlington Coat Factory, Hobby Lobby and Stein Mart; and add a new element called the Marketplace, which will allow non-chain, mostly local retailers to locate at the property and grow their business.

Late last week, the Marketplace section of the mall, which call hold about 125 businesses in spaces measuring from 200 square feet to 600 square feet, officially opened at roughly 60 percent occupied. Many but not all of the retailers are fashion, jewelry and specialty shops catering to an Hispanic market, while others are unusual startups, such as Ooples, which specializes in “anime and geek apparel,” and Nine Tails, a “cyberpunk goth industrial fashion” boutique.

“We want this to be a textbook mall revitalization, and we believe the conditions are right for it to happen,” Oscar Montemayor, director of leasing for Wonderland of the Americas, told CPE. “The mall has the benefit of being a fixture of San Antonio retail for 50 years, but also the novelty of the shops in the Marketplace, which no one else has.”

Wilson Toudouze, which set up La Marqueta-Toudouze at the Marketplace as an extension of his San Antonio business that sells high-demand Mexican import items such as vanilla, hot sauces, candy, soda, snacks and piñatas, told CPE that the new location seems to be attracting new customers. “As people hear about the new things going on at the mall, they’re dropping by to see for themselves and liking what they find,” he says. “So far so good.”

Unemployment Remains Tough Nut to Crack

State-by-state tallies of unemployment were a mixed bag in July, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday. Unemployment dropped in 18 states and Washington, DC during the month, but increased in 14 states. In the other 18 states, the unemployment rate didn’t budge during July.

The month’s numbers demonstrated, once again, that the place to go for employment is the Dakotas. North Dakota had the lowest unemployment rate among all the states, 3.6 percent, and even gained 200 jobs in July. South Dakota lost 100 jobs during the same month, but maintained its 4.4 percent unemployment rate.

Then again, unemployment-rate comparisons between the states aren’t always fruitful exercises, since labor market sizes differ so much. California, which has the third-highest employment rate in the nation at 12.3 percent, counts some 2.25 million of its citizens as unemployment, which is about 800,000 more people than the entire population of the two Dakotas. By most standards, California could be its own country; and if it were, the International Monetary Fund would be sending in experts to help it recover.

Wall Street ended Friday down a little, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average losing 57.59 points, or 0.56 percent, while the S&P 500 declined 0.37 percent. The Nasdaq, however, edged up ever so slightly, gaining 0.04 percent.