EL PASO, Texas - Sunland Park Mall and businesses inside are struggling to survive.
It's been a year since one of the mall's anchor tenants, Macy's, shut its doors. Since then, the mall has yet to fill the vacancy.
ABC-7 also counted at least 19 other vacancies throughout the mall including American Eagle and Abide. Across the street, Barriga's just closed its doors and Toys R' Us was slated to close as well. However, after additional negotiations, officials told ABC-7 the store was removed from their store closure list.
Officials with Sunland Park Mall declined to comment on what their plans for the future include. The City of El Paso's Economic Development Director, Jessica Herrera, told ABC-7 they've been in contact with mall owners.
"We’ve had very minimal conversations over these last two years with Sunland Park Mall, and our mall owners and operators, about the health of the property and what they’re doing to encourage tenants to come in. And if you’ve seen, a lot of malls are really struggling to see how they can keep and encourage customers to come in," Herrera said.
The city officials said Sunland Park Mall is going through a transition, as online sales continue to rise and retailers start to reinvent themselves. She tells ABC-7 families are choosing experiences, where they can shop, dine and find entertainment all in one place. She says that's why Cielo Vista Mall and Fountains at Farah have succeeded.
"If you look at the the way the Fountains was laid out you have that open air concept. You have a trolley that runs around the property, if people want to park their car in front of PF Changs and they want to go up to the second level and do a little shopping they can - because of that connectivity. If you want to cross the street and walk to Cielo Vista Mall. That area is our largest retail node and there’s a lot of density there. You’re right off of I-10," Herrera said.
Sunland Park Mall, which is also off of I-10, is near TXDOT's ongoing Go10 project. Dr. Tom Fullerton, a professor of economics at UTEP, told ABC-7 he believes that's played a role in the decline of customers.
"With all of the construction and traffic flow disruptions associated with the Go10 project and finishing Loop 375, it has disrupted this customer traffic just enough to cause some of the more marginal stores decide, you know what, we're not covering enough of our variable cost to be able to continue. So it's probably a short run phenomenon, as soon as the construction is finished, then it will be back and it will be performing better, and in the long run, it should do relatively well because population continues to grow on the Westside," Dr. Fullerton said.
Herrera says once construction is over, the area will again see a spike in business returning because that portion of West El Paso is home to high salaries and steady traffic.
"You have an area that has very good demographics very good income and you also have solid traffic counts both off of I-10 and of course you have construction right now happening with TXDOT and so that creates a lot of tension but I really think we’re headed in a positive direction," Herrera said.
Herrera also believes the opening of Top Golf will help generate business for West El Paso.
"What’s happening with Montecillo and what will happen over the next year or two with Montecillo as Top Golf starts great gaining strength. Because Top Golf is going to be a catalyst to that area and what I mean by that it’s going to kind of light a match to bring in the other necessary retail to complement not only want to see you but the area around Sunland Park," Herrera said.
She adds the closures do impact the city but does not believe there's a cause for concern.
"We look at it as a retail node for the city and really I think in retail sales in El Paso we’ve been very strong and we’ve held steady I think we’re projected to close to $13 billion in retail sales for 2018 so that does hurt but it’s mainly if you have closures of stores but I think we need to look at what’s coming," Herrera said.
Herrera adds malls generate a significant amount of sales tax to the city. She says the city will meet with owners at Sunland Park Mall in May to discuss the mall's condition and how the city can help generate business. She says that could include incentives like retail and property taxes.
Herrera said while the mall has yet to replace the former Macy's, there's a huge opportunity to include food halls, atypical anchors like gyms, offices, etc.
"There's no need for us to worry other then we need to be patient and understand that these deals do take a while before they actually can become announced," Herrera said.