Even before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down New Orleans’ tourism industry in 2020, prompting 10 tenants to leave The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk, longtime property owner The Howard Hughes Corporation had been looking for a buyer.
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RockStep Capital president Andy Weiner said he didn’t want to miss the chance. His Houston-based realty investment firm, RockStep Capital, purchased the riverfront shopping center for an undisclosed amount.
“We saw an opportunity to buy a major asset in a vibrant market, where will be doing hands-on leasing and creative management with a city and with a community that wanted to see this property excel and do something that created some positive energy,” Weiner said.
There are significant challenges associated with this opportunity. The mall has relied on tourists to survive since it was converted from vacant warehouse space following the World’s Fair in the mid-1980s, and those numbers haven’t fully returned since 2020.
It currently has more than 75 retailers and restaurants, which includes high-end brands such Kate Spade, Polo Ralph Lauren and Coach. That hasn’t been enough to sustain long-term success, though, according to Louisiana Commercial Realty agent and broker Robert Hand
“The challenge of this shopping center is that it has never been able to take advantage of its location, and the stores have not been able to draw enough customers in to make money,”Hand said. “Which is a real shame, because the location is terrific and in any other city a shopping center on a waterway with a terrific view would be the first choice to go shopping. But they have not been able to take advantage of that.”
Michelle Waak, Rockstep Capital’s vice president of leasing, stated that the property, formerly known as Riverwalk Marketplace in the past, was darkened and outdated by General Growth Properties when it was purchased from them in 2011. It was reopened after a $84million renovation.
“We opened 95 to 96% occupied,”Waak stated. “It was great. The retailers jumped on the bandwagon, did the deals and we opened really strong.”
It was rebranded as The Outlet Collection in Riverwalk, and was fully leased between 2016 and the pandemic. It was also home to Nordstrom Rack, which was one of only two Nordstrom Racks in Louisiana.
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According to Hand, the recent tenant loss, which left 40,000 foot of vacant space, was partly due online shopping and inability of retailers adapt.
“We will get past COVID and start having a lot of conventions like we used to and that will bring more business back,”He concluded. “If they can replace those lost tenants with really interesting, unique tenants that offer special products that will draw in buyers, that’ll draw people back into shopping.”
Weiner said that the mall “needs hands-on creative management to bring it to its full potential.”He stated that the goal is to have full occupancy within 24 to 36 months.
“We will be able to do that, and the tenants that will come in will be better than the tenants that left because of COVID,”He said. “We have signed a letter of intent with a major luxury outlet house. There are three more luxury tenants that we are negotiating with and said they want to be in the property.”He declined to name the tenants.
RockStep will make improvements to the Spanish Plaza in the next three to fourth years. “a major destination for food, entertainment and one of the key entry ways into the Riverwalk itself.”
“We think the current energy level, the current pizzazz, is just very low and we would like to reenergize Spanish Plaza with a series of quality high-end restaurants with covered outdoor seating along with some sort of public stage so that we could feature culture-bearers on a regular basis,” Weiner said. “In addition, we would like the fountain to be more fun, more entertaining and more artistic.”
Hand stated that customers will visit your business if they have a reason to.
“The challenge of someone that owns a shopping center is to discriminate in a way that the stores have a synergy with each other,”He said. “You cannot have stores there that they also have at Lakeside or Clearview.”
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