Tired of hearing all the gloom and doom about Viking Plaza?
Not everyone feels that way - especially Alan Retkinsk, CEO of Lexington Realty International, the new owner of the mall that purchased the bank note on the property about six weeks ago.
Remember those 200 to 250 jobs that were lost in the last year or so when several mall stores shut down? Retkinski plans to bring that many jobs back, along with another 50 to 150 more.
Ever since Lexington resumed ownership of the mall, Retkinski said he's been working hard drumming up potential tenants.
"In six weeks I've generated more than 100,000 square feet of interest," he said. "This would bring the mall back to 90 percent occupancy. There are a lot of good things that can happen. It just takes a little time to build the spaces up."
Retkinski is bubbling with optimism, not only about the mall's future but also the way the city and county are supporting the mall's comeback.
"Alexandria and Douglas County are the kindest, proactive, business-liking entities I have ever dealt with in all my properties across many, many states," Retkinski said. "They are willing to work with us and I am extremely humbled and excited."
Retkinski met with city, county and economic development officials last week to talk about the mall's future and his enthusiasm appears to have rubbed off on them as well.
"The city is incredibly excited about the revitalization of the Viking Plaza," said Alexandria Mayor Sara Carlson. "We listened to his plan of action and provided our support and financial information about revolving improvement loan funds that the city as well as Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission have available for him to apply for. There are many things developing right and now we are working hard to see that they will come to fruition for the benefit of our community."
The names Retkinski and Lexington should sound familiar. Back in 2008, Lexington, with Retkinski at the helm, purchased the mall after one of its anchors, Thrifty White, moved out, dropping the mall's occupancy rate to about 60 percent.
Over the next few years, Retkinski went to work, making improvements and reaching out to prospective clients about the mall's potential. The mall rebounded - Dunham's came in and JoAnn Fabrics moved into Thrifty White's space. A new entrance was built to Dunham's. An outlot was developed that housed Dollar Tree. Famous Footwear came into the mall, along with Rue 21. Hallmark moved to another spot in the mall.
Although Lexington is based in New Jersey, Retkinski would make monthly visits to Viking Plaza, visiting with tenants and making sure the parking lot and grounds were well maintained.
Retkinski added amenities, such as comfortable couches, a children's play area, free Wifi and "anything that would possibly interest the shoppers," he said. His philosophy at the time was to build "tomorrow's mall."
It paid off.
"Everything was booming," Retkinski said. "We were at 110 percent occupancy."
But everything changed last year when Lexington's mortgage on the mall was set to expire. When Lexington requested to renew the mortgage and continue managing the property, the Wall Street bank declined, according to Retkinski.
"They felt they could do a better job with their people," he said.
The mall went into a decline, losing Herbergers, JCPenney, Hallmark, Payless Shoes, Bookworld, Vanity and Rue 21. Retkinski was quick to point out that the closings were not because of lack of sales at Viking Plaza. They were caused by corporate bankruptcies.
So now, Retkinski finds himself in almost the same spot he was 10 years ago - restoring the mall's business and vibrancy.
"It's my responsibility to rebuild and begin again where we left off," he said.
Retkinski said he got to work immediately, fixing a big complaint at the mall - potholes in the parking lot. He contacted Mark Lee Excavating in Alexandria to fill the holes and some patching work began last week.
Retkinski said he's also making headway on the bigger challenge of finding tenants to fill the mall. Because of confidentiality agreements, he could not divulge which businesses have already expressed an interest but he added that he's not only been talking to retailers but other sectors as well.
"I'm exploring all opportunities to bring back excitement to the mall, to make it like it should be in today's world," he said.
He expects the mall's vacancy rate to start improving this year.
"I know there might be some skeptics, but look at the mall's 10-year occupancy and what I did in the last 10 years," Retkinski said. "I will do that again. Nothing is going to stop me from making this a success."
Retkinski said he's so excited about the mall's future that he wants to provide monthly updates in the newspaper about new developments and improvements.
"The mall once thrived, tourism here thrived - it will happen again," he said.
Lexington Realty International, based in Lakewood, New Jersey, is a national real estate firm that specializes in purchasing, leasing, developing and managing commercial real estate. The company was founded in 2004 to service the retail real estate needs of retailers, property owners and investors. Its portfolio includes mall, office and retail outlets in 22 states.