ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Four years ago, West Central Plaza at Central and Atrisco was in dire shape. After the closure of Kmart, the Southwest Albuquerque mall’s anchor tenant, the mall was nearly 85 percent vacant, with a dilapidated parking lot and a shortage of nearby amenities.
Still, Casey McKeon, vice president for acquisitions at California-based Heslin Holdings, saw reasons for hope based on its location. With the right mix of stores and a retrofitted space, McKeon said the mall could succeed.
“We believe we can definitely backfill this Kmart with two or three tenants,” he said.
Today, after extensive renovations, West Central Plaza is nearly full, with two national chains – Conn’s HomePlus and Burlington Coat Factory – occupying the space where Kmart once stood. New buildings have gone up, and new tenants have come onboard throughout the plaza.
“We saw the potential,” McKeon said.
McKeon said Heslin, which acquires and redevelops existing retail, office and medical plazas, was attracted to the parcel because of its location in southwest quadrant of the city. He said Southwest Albuquerque has less retail space per resident than the rest of the city, as well as the national average. That general shortage of stores, along with the success of the mall on the other side of Central Avenue, which is home to an El Super grocery store and a Family Dollar, were Heslin’s primary reasons for optimism.
“Being in the southwest portion of the market, there’s really not a lot of retail down there,” McKeon said.
The building that housed the Kmart went through an extensive renovation, as builders removed asbestos and installed a new HVAC system and roof. The developers subdivided the building, making it suitable for retailers looking to downsize. One building, now occupied by Harbor Freight Tools, was converted for use by a single tenant. When Dollar Tree committed to West Central Plaza in 2017, the developers built a 17,000-square-foot building for the company to move into. Finally, Dunkin Donuts is constructing a building in the shopping center along Central.
In a retail landscape that has been hard on many large stores, McKeon stressed the importance of working with “internet-resistant” companies: those that understand the disruptive role the internet can play on retail, and have taken steps to adapt to the new environment. He said he’s been encouraged to see how both Burlington and Conn’s have evolved as companies.
“That’s why we really like the tenant mix,” McKeon said.
Restoration Pizza’s unique workforce
Restoration Pizza, a new pizza restaurant spearheaded by Bosque Brewing Co., wouldn’t have gotten off the ground without support from nearly a dozen groups that help find jobs for employees with special needs.
When the pizza restaurant opened in April, it did so with 38 percent of its staff considered differently abled, with challenges ranging from autism to Down syndrome, according to Nathan Winham, a program consultant working for Restoration Pizza. Winham said the restaurant hopes to eventually have 40 to 60 percent of its staffed positions occupied by employees with disabilities.
“That was a hugely underrepresented workforce,” Winham said.
Winham has a background working with employees with special needs and said the restaurant’s approach grew out of work he did while living in Arkansas. Winham said employees have been referred by 11 support agencies, including Mandy’s Farm and New Mexico Commission for the Blind.
In its first few weeks of operation, the restaurant serves about 400 customers every day, said Jotham Michnovicz, chief development officer for Bosque Brewing Co.
“Things are getting busier and busier every week,” Michnovicz said.
Second ABQ Slapfish open at Winrock
After a soft opening featuring free lobster rolls, Albuquerque’s second location of Slapfish is officially open for business at Winrock Town Center.
Bridget Wilson, co-owner and business manager of the restaurant’s Albuquerque franchises, said they agreed to bring two locations to the Albuquerque market when they opened the first location, at 6400 Holly NE, in 2017. After looking at spaces in other parts of town, Wilson said they settled on the location near Winrock’s northern edge last year.
“This is a part of the city that’s known for shopping and for eating,” Wilson said. “It serves a different demographic and regional area than our one at Holly Square.”
She said the second location is significantly larger than the first, at around 3,000 square feet. She added that the Winrock location also features a patio, which allows it to significantly expand seating when the weather is nice.
“Six months out of the year, we almost double in size,” she said.
Wilson said Slapfish hired 30 employees at the new location.
She added that the new location is the 16th Slapfish to open nationwide, part of an aggressive expansion by the fast-casual seafood restaurant. The restaurant was founded by California-based celebrity chef Andrew Gruel.
Patience pays off for ad agency president
Jonathan Lewis’ first day at the Albuquerque-based advertising firm McKee Wallwork + Co. involved his standing in a bullpen in northeastern New Mexico and holding up the tail of an unhappy bull for several hours, as part of a commercial filming.
“It was a wild introduction to the world of advertising,” Lewis said.
Despite the unpleasant first day, Lewis went back for Day 2, and for 12 years after that, slowly working his way up through the ranks of the company. His diligence eventually paid off when he was appointed as company president earlier in May. Lewis had most recently worked as vice president of the agency.
Lewis praised the work that the agency, founded by Steve McKee and Pat Wallwork in Albuquerque, has done during his time there, but stressed the need to continue evolving. He joined the company right before the Great Recession, which hit McKee Wallwork and other advertising agencies hard. He said his agency has responded by working with client companies more holistically, helping them with business plans instead of merely working on ad campaigns.
“We can’t assume old ways of doing biz will continue to be effective,” Lewis said.
Despite the change, Lewis emphasized that McKee and Wallwork will remain with the company for the foreseeable future.
Stephen Hamway covers retail and real estate for the Albuquerque Journal. You can reach him at email@example.com or by phone at 505-823-3919.