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Now with golf: The Boulevard Mall continues to reinvent itself

boulevardmall.jpg

Brent Holmes

There’s not an ounce of concern in his voice as Timo Kuusela lists the stores that have either closed or will close this year at the Boulevard Mall: JCPenney, Macy’s, Sears.

“And I just read that Bebe is shuttering all its brick-and-mortar stores,” says Kuusela, the Boulevard Mall’s general manager. The Boulevard Mall doesn’t have a Bebe oulet, but it still goes to his point: “Traditional mall tenants are going away as people increasingly do their shopping online,” he says matter-of-factly.

The reason for Kuusela’s lack of alarm: To his mind, the stores that are closing aren’t vital organs; rather, they’re dead material that the Boulevard Mall must shed in order to grow.

What’s coming in to replace those stores suggests an aging, urban shopping destination that continues to evolve since new owner Roland Sansone purchased it in 2013. In May, Colorado-based call center company TeleTech will begin operations in what was formerly the upper level of Dillard’s, employing 400 workers to start. (What was formerly the lower level of Dillard’s is now occupied by a Goodwill thrift store and John’s Incredible Pizza.) Later this summer, a 35,000 square-foot King Putt mini-golf complex will open in the mall. TeleTech and King Putt are hardly typical mall tenants, but they fit in with the Boulevard’s evolving identity — a happily improvised, down-ticket retail and entertainment complex tailored for an increasingly diverse central Las Vegas.

[Hear more: A discussion of the Boulevard Mall’s past and future on “KNPR’s State of Nevada”]

Even TeleTech required a little selling on the idea. “It’s not a typical space for them,” says Kuusela. “But once they listened to Sansone’s vision, they were hooked. And when we worked out the economic terms, it was the best deal in town.”

Bonus: an additional 400 people circulating through the mall every day. Indeed, Kuusela says some of the mall’s traditional tenants, such as Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret, have benefitted from the Boulevard’s pivot to service, dining and entertainment, with annual sales up 12 to 26 percent. In fact, Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works are eventually moving into new spaces closer to the front of the mall.

“The mix we’re developing keeps us from being negatively impacted if a certain sector suffers,” Kuusela explains. “If the office sector takes a hit, we still have retail and service. If retail takes a hit, we can rebound with the office portion. This way, we’re not completely exposed on the property.” Kuusela declines to name them, but he says three more tenants are already in line to take over the space JCPenney will leave behind — two discount stores and a business similar to TeleTech.

“The American mall is changing, and we can’t measure success anymore by whether it has a JCPenney, a Sears, or a Macy’s," Kuusela says. "That’s not the measuring stick anymore. People who are not familiar with the industry may think we’re going down because Macy’s or JCPenney left. That’s not it at all. That’s just more square footage for us to reinvent.”

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