Pending a nod from the Norfolk City Council, the Sunset Plaza Mall could get a major facelift for its 50th anniversary.
Dial Properties — which owns the Sunset Plaza — has initiated the process of obtaining what’s called an Enhanced Employment District designation to partially fund a major improvement project for the mall.
Josh Vickery, a development investment specialist with DP Management, said the updates are an imperative component in keeping the Norfolk mall vibrant.
“Everything we do is to attract and retain tenants,” he said. “That is the only purpose for this.”
The updates will include a new mall entrance, entrance facade with large format graphics, outdoor seating, porte-cochere (covered entrance), a revised parking area, zero clearance parking, signage, canopy treatments and potential new site pads. The food court will receive new flooring, ceiling, wall treatments, lighting and a contemporary look with new tables and seating.
Vickery compared the feel of the improvements to the new flagship commons in Omaha’s Westroads Mall. “We would never be able to do something on that scale, but that’s what we’re aiming for — a cool place that brings people into a destination-type spot to eat,” he said.
Vickery said the most noticeable upgrade would be the more inviting look and the more modern exterior from Target almost down to Pizza Ranch.
“We want to have an indoor/outdoor-type feel,” he said.
The project would be funded partially through an Enhanced Employment Area designation. The designation is an economic development tool designed to finance public or private facilities, improvements or services within a city.
The Enhanced Employment Area Act was adopted by the Legislature in 2007 as part of Legislative Bill 562.
Sunset Plaza improvements will be financed through a loan in which the mall ownership is solely responsible. To help retire the debt, the Enhanced Employment Area will create the district, which will include mall tenants and out lots.
A proposed one percent occupation tax would be applied only to purchases made at retailers in the enhanced area district and that revenue generated will be applied to the loan.
Vickery said the enhanced district proposal will go before the city council on Monday, May 7. The proposed district would enable the mall’s owner to finance up to $3.5 million for the project.
“The city is not responsible for any of this,” he said. “It’s the owner’s personal guarantee on the loan they take out personally.”
Vickery said the mall’s owners are sharing information about the redevelopment plans in order to encourage public comment and reaction prior to the April 30 council meeting.
The Sunset Plaza Mall has been an important player in Norfolk retail since its opening day when it drew 33,000 people — nearly twice the population of the city at that time — in May 1968.
It is currently anchored by national retailers Target, J.C. Penney’s and Herberger’s and also is home to locally owned retail shops like Renegade Work, Western & Weekend.
Vickery said challenges facing the retail industry — including the uncertainty faced by The Bon-Ton Stores, which owns Herberger’s — is not a deterrent for the project.
“Because of the fact that the city is not on the hook for any of this and the owner does have to sign personally on a guarantee to repay the loan, yes, the ownership is concerned with that,” he said of the bankruptcy filing by Bon-Ton. “But are they so concerned with it that they aren’t going to try to save the mall and sign personally on a note? No, they’re going to go ahead and do that.”
Vickery said middle market malls like Sunset Plaza remain vibrant because they serve as a community center, as well as a retail outlet. Mall ownership has spent more than $500,000 in the past five years on capital repairs and tenant improvements.
“To attract new national tenants to the mall, this would require improvements that are standard to today’s presentation and customer satisfaction,” Vickery said.
The capital improvements are subject to the city council’s approval. Local and regional sub-contracting could begin construction before the end of spring.
“We’d like to be done before Christmas,” Vickery said.