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Cabarrus Magazine

'Up Front' Takes a Look at the Future of Concord Mills in Episode 43

Jan 22, 2020 01:54PM ● By Jason Huddle

Episode 43: The Future of Concord Mills

Huddle
Welcome to Up Front with Cabarrus Magazine, sponsored by Atlantic Bay Mortgage, Cabarrus Arena and Events Center, Cabarrus Eye Center, CERTEC Automotive, Code Ninjas, Concord Downtown Development Corporation, Family Wealth Partners, Merle Norman Cosmetics and Edie's Salon and Your CBD store of Concord. I'm your host, Jason Huddle.
Welcome once again to upfront with Cabarrus Magazine. So pleased you're here with us today. And if you looked in the magazine, we have a teaser ad for the podcast in the magazine that usually outlines what subjects were gonna be tackling in the coming month. And, if you looked on this week, you would see where it says Cabarrus County in the 20's. Well, that was my original plan. And then we had an incident, actually, two incidents at Concord Mills Mall. It was tragic what happened to a young, 13 year-old girl who lost her life needlessly because of some losers who happened to have guns and no restraint. So once again, almost a year after I talked about this kind of thing happening at Concord Mills, we've come full circle and we're back here again. But this time it's different because I was able to get Ray Soporowski, General manager of Concord Mills, to agree to sit down with me and let me tell you, he does not agree to sit down with the media very often. So, I was very humbled and appreciative that he was willing to give us some time. And so instead of talking about Cabarrus County in the twenties and what we can look forward to, we will tackle that at another date. But I wanted to dedicate this episode to the future of Concord Mills Mall, and that's what we're going to talk about today. But before we get to that, let's get to our shameless plug time, shall we?  
Those of you who are fans of Cabarrus Magazine dot com know that one of the most popular things that we do every month is our restaurant report. Well, our newest one is out, and I encourage you to take a look and see who our top three and bottom three restaurants are based on their health scores over the last month. It's always interesting to see who is making the grade and who isn't. And sometimes there's been some shockers on there, and sometimes I'm not so shocked, to be honest with you. But it is one of our most popular features, and it is sponsored by Bluejay ECO Cleaning Services. So I appreciate their sponsorship, and we appreciate you guys taking a look at our monthly restaurant report on Cabarrus Magazine dot com. Go check it out today, and that is today's shameless plug time.  
All right, when we come back, we will have Ray Soporowski, general manager of Concord Mills, one on one in his very own office. Right after these messages. Stick around
Huddle 
Welcome back to Up Front with Cabarrus Magazine. We are here in the offices of Ray Soporowski. He is the general manager of Concord Mills, and we're very please that he has welcomed us in with open arms to talk about everything that's going on in Concord. Mills. Ray, first of all, thanks for being on the program.  
You're welcome Jason. Appreciate that.  
So let's get right down to it. Let's talk about the concerns that some of the public has with security and with recent events at Concord Mills. Granted, they were in the parking lot, and I don't think anybody necessarily holds the mall accountable because these were individuals that - I mean this kind of thing can happen anywhere. But I want to hear from you. People want to hear from you as far as how Concord Mills is dealing with these situations and moving forward what is being done?  
I appreciate that. I just want everybody to know that we're totally committed to providing a safe and secure shopping environment for our customers, our retailers and our employees. We have a number of proactive security measures in place, both seen and unseen, including maintaining a continuous patrol on the interior and exterior of the center. The Concord Police Department has David District located here on site, and we work closely with them in the Cabarrus County Sheriff's Department to increase our security.  
How has attendants been since these recent incidents?  
Good. It has been good.  
Have you noticed any kind of fluctuation Either way?  
A lot of families. Yeah, and and, you know, it's been good. So we're very happy to see that.  
Okay, so in short, people can still feel safe coming to Concord Mills.  
Yes, they can. I think they should feel extremely safe when they come here. Okay,  
Well, I wanted to get that question out of the way, because that's one's on the top of everybody's minds. But they're several other questions regarding Concord Mills. That is on everyone's mind. Like why the heck is the first entrance closed? What is going on with that?  
Well, we're in the process of building a flyover, which is actually a bridge. This project started in 2015 with the Cabarrus CVB's 2020 plan. And there was a committee that was formed between Marcus Smith, myself, Doug Stafford, Mayor Pageant, John Mills, from the CVB and Joe Wilson from Department of Transportation and what we were looking at, there was a need because there's a lot of traffic on the boulevard, as we all know. And the problem is, is that when you have a lot of backups than people get frustrated. And one of the things that backed up the traffic was the first entrance. Everybody seemed to gravitate to our first vehicle entrance to that turn signal instead of going down to the second. And the third one -
No one realizes those entrances even existed right?
Yeah, even though the sign says next three entrances. However, so what happened is, as a result of that, we had backups not only on the boulevard, but it also backed up the exit ramps coming north and south on 85.  
Which, by the way, is the most trafficked exit in the state, exit 49.  
That doesn't help.

You know it doesn't, and the fact that the manner is his Concord Mills Boulevard has I forget what the last traffic count is. It's about 48,000 cars a day, so you know there's a lot of traffic here. And we as a group, went to the state of North Carolina and we talked to the secretary of transportation, secretary of state and actually got a meeting with the Governor McCrory and sat down and presented our case and said, We need your help. This is a very busy exit. It generates a lot of sales tax revenue for the state of North Carolina. And if we don't do something, we're going to see people start pulling away from coming here. And so at that point, they understood our what we were doing. And Joe had a rendering of the flyover that he had seen from another area, and we presented that. It took about 18 months, and at that point, what happened is they got pushed to the top of the heat of the projects in the state of North Carolina, and in 2017 it was approved, and it was funded in early 2018. So that's basically the history. What is going to do is this will be a bridge. So as people come across the interstate or get off the interstate and get into the double turn lanes by on the border. Instead of them going to a traffic signal, they will go on a bridge that will go up and turned directly into the parking lot. And as they enter the parking lot, there'll be two lanes to the right, one lane to the left. That will eliminate that turn signal. Their will still be a traffic signal there, but we'll eliminate the turn signal. So that flow will be continuous. And that should really help out. And we've made some modifications on the second entrance as well. We put a double turn lean over there, and then we have a single turn lane at the third entrance. So the goal was to eliminate, that back up and by eliminating that turn signal, we'll eliminate that backup and then coming out, we'll have four lanes of egress. As you come up to that. TGI Friday's up to that first entrance to leave the shopping center. The project is gonna be - It started on January the sixth, and the schedule opening day for the flyover is October 31st of 20.  
So right as we're hitting Christmas shopping season again.
That was the target. But when we talked, we were looking at doing it in 2019 but because we couldn't get some of the utility work done, we felt that it would be in our best interest to, we meaning the state and us, is to push it to 2020, so they could complete all of that storm drain and an electrical movement that they need to do on the boulevard.  
Now you and I both know that DOT projects can get delayed, and so is this a - Is this a highball estimate, or is this of all the stars align and we get perfect weather estimate?
It's gonna be a schedule that's gonna be tight, I think. But again, the good thing about that is, is that, again, Thanksgiving this year is late in the month. It's, you know, it's the 26th verses like the 21st so that should give us at least a little bit of a window. But being that we have utility work out of the way, it's just a matter of the bridge construction. So that should be okay.  
So let's talk about that construction time though. A main concern is traffic flow right? That's the reason why this project is being done.  So how do you anticipate traffic being affected? I mean, it's a construction project. Traffic is going to be affected. But how bad is going to get when this flyover starts being built?  
Well, it is. I mean, we've already blocked off those turn lanes, and I was here last Saturday and, you know, traffic flowed really pretty good on the, you know, on the second and third entrances. We really didn't have too much of an issue. We do have some weekends that I know we're gonna be busier than normal. And what we'll do in in that case is we'll, look at bringing out the Concord police and directing traffic so that we can move traffic a little better. We have signs on the ring road. Directing our customers to the entrance is one of the things that we're probably going to do, we talked about it yesterday, is putting another directional reader board on the backside or toward the back side that said you, you know, follow this to your exit to Mallard Creek, so that'll utilize that back entrance, but they're still three entrances and exits to the mall.  
I was gonna mention that because it's funny. My son works -My youngest son works near here. He doesn't work in Concord Mills, although my oldest did. His first job was here, but the other day, and he's worked this place for over a year, the other day we took the back way out. I think there's a lot of traffic or something. We took the back way out and I was like, Why haven't we ever gone this way before? There's nobody on the road!
During the week.
Right. Well, this was on a Saturday. Yeah, this was on a Saturday and we just cruised right out. We got out from behind the mall, and we were home in 10 minutes. It was crazy.  
What we what we did at Christmas time, because again, our traffic is much heavier. Our vehicle traffic is what we did at Christmas time is we had come for police officers directing traffic at that entrance. And what we did is we limited the access off a Mallard Creek and we made it egress only, and we directed out. So what we basically did has alternated the traffic flow from one side to the other. So instead of running one lane out, we're running too late. And that really alleviated any backups that we had in the lot. And so, you know, we have a plan in place. We're going to try to make it easy, as easy as possible for our customers to get in and out during this construction period. But I think once we get everything done, they'll see a real change in how traffic can flow around.  
Sure, Okay. All right. Well, just like you have tenants. I have sponsors.  
Okay.  
That I have to take care of. I'm gonna pay a few bills, and then when we come back, I want to talk about some things that are happening inside the mall that are exciting and coming soon. Can we talk about that?
We sure can.  
Absolutely. All right, You guys stick around and we will be back in just a few minutes with Ray Soporowski from Concord Mills Mall.
And welcome back. We are sitting here with Ray Soporowski, general manager of Concord Mills, And Ray has been gracious enough to give us his time. Today, we talked about security. We've talked about the flyover and the fact that we're just gonna have to deal with it the next 10 months. But when it opens, it's gonna be this grand, awesome thing that we will wonder how we got along without it.  
Hopefully so. It should make it a lot easier, and I think the frustration that people have getting here is again. As I said, we have three vehicle entrances on Concord Mills Boulevard, but everybody gravitates the number one, and then they get frustrated because they have to sit through many light cycles to get in here. Being a continuous flow in, I think that they will alleviate a lot of that. It also help us, or help with not backing up Concord Mills Boulevard Bruton Smith Boulevard and also the exit ramp. So it definitely has a will have a very positive effect on the flow. And again, as I said, we're working real close with DOT. Both the state and also the local transportation people aswell.
Wonderful. All right, let's talk about what's coming up inside the mall. You guys have just finished major renovations.
The mall looks great, by the way. I was just admiring it when I was on my way in, walking through the mall to get to your office. It just looks so crisp and clean and I don't know, it just has a different feel to it now.  
Well, it's bright. And before you know, when we opened the center, it was themed and the colors were they were sort of neat. But that was the nineties.  
It was very nineties.  
It was very nineties.  You're right. And you know, after a while you've just got to keep pace with the times. And I think when we did the interior and exterior renovation, we definitely - two things. Number one, we kept pace with the time and it's the new color patterns and then also it has a much better feel. It's brighter. You feel like you're at South Park. It has the same feel as a regional shopping center that has luxury brands. And and I think that was the goal. We did- I think we did a really good job on our way- finding signs, the new signage package, you know, on the directionals, and everything. It looks great. We're getting a lot of positive comments from our customers with the soft seating areas and everything that we have done. So you know, that was the intention is to bring it up to the 2000 and twenties and to give it. We've renovated four the five restrooms, so they've been all upgraded. We continue to make those improvements. You know, we want to make this a shopping place where customers are comfortable, they feel warm, it's warm, it's inviting, and I think by what we've done, but the interior next terrier. We've accomplished that.  
Wonderful. And maybe your new slogan could be "South Park without the snootiness." I don't know. That's just my two cents.  
I don't want to go there. They're our sister -
All respect the South Park. You guys are great. Blah, blah, blah. Okay. All right. So let's talk about this. The fact that across the nation malls as a whole are struggling.  
Online shopping is hurting quite frankly. But here we are 20 years down the road. You guys are bringing in new tenants.  
Yes.  
Let's talk about that. Who do you have coming in?  
Well, the first thing that we did is in November, we opened Under Armour, which was a big deal for us. We've been trying to do a deal with them for years, and we finally got it done. And they opened in the old Nautica location, which is right inside entry two. by Books-a-Million. And we relocated Nautica to a smaller space and they redid their stores. So we got a new look on them. But that was a big deal for us because, you know, Sarah, my marketing director, can tell you as well as I, we were getting a lot of the inquiries like, Wow, why don't you have an Under Armour? Well, now we have an Under Armour. We have lost some tenants this year due to corporate closures.
Which you can't help that.
You can't help that. And I mean, it's just their decisions. They're making them. You look around and meet even the big guys like the Wal Marts. And people like that are closing stores. But we do have some really new things coming. In February, we will open New Balance, which I think is a great deal. New Balance is a great store. They're gonna be located in neighborhoods six by The Gap, right across from The Gap area. We have another tenant that does different desserts. It's called Loco Desert. They do to churros. They do doughnuts and with all types of flavors and toppings. And they also do this soft serve ice cream.  
You had me at churro. Go ahead an take my money.  
Yeah. Churros are great and, uh, my granddaughter loves those. I don't know how she knew about them, but she knew about them. The other one we did is Versona. For people that don't know what Versona is, its owned by Cato, and it's the Cato version of Charming Charlie's. Charming Charlie's recently closed all their stores. But, it's a great store. My wife frequents the one that the Arboretum a lot. They have a lot more apparel than Charming Charlie's did, but they do a very good job, and they're going in the Dress Barn location. So we're real excited about that. And again, that's another tenant we have been talking to you for years, but we finally did a deal, so that's the three or four that we have right now. But I can tell you we have four more in the pipeline that are in the process of executions. So until they get executed, we're not at liberty to say anything about -
Cab you give us a hint?  Just something. Give us something.
I can't. I might get whipped, But you know, I think they'll be good additions to the center, and you know, there's a lot of people that want to be here, and that's the good thing. We have a lot of interest by our tenants to come and we've been talking to a lot of these tenants for years, and some of them that we're looking at have not wanted to do business with us because you know, Mills is is a sort of a hybrid. It has outlet, it has value, It has traditional retail, and some of the tenants don't like to be with an outlet or value. But what they're finding in the mills and other mill centers that they go to is they could do a lot of business in our center is versus going to a regional center or a strip center. So I think from that aspect it gives us a little bit of a bigger pool to pull from. And I think our leasing folks are doing a good job with that. And you know, my job here is to make sure that I'm operating the center and that we're keeping pace with the times and we're you know, we're doing unnecessary things and like rebel, we said the operations of the center is daily and we have to look at everything on a daily basis, and if it needs to be changed, we need to make those changes, and that's what my job is.
OK. A couple of years ago, Outback, Bonefish Grill and Chipotle opened up in the parking lot.  
 First of all, that kind of cut out a little bit of your parking. Has that been an issue?  
No. It cut out convenient parking. But, you know, we lost I think around 200 spaces. But I mean again, you know, we still have about 7300 spaces available. Are you open to letting some more restaurants come in and develop in the parking lot, or is that gonna be it?  
No, I think if we have find the right the right restaurant, you know, we'll put it in the parking lot and try to create our own little pad in here. Okay, Um again, Bonefish, Outback and Chipotle are doing very well. Their sales are good. And they are happy, and we're happy that they're there. And quite frankly, I think that Bonefish and Outback are probably the best eating restaurants, or the best restaurants on the boulevard - from a standpoint of the quality of what you get. So you know, again, we're committed to trying to do more for our customers, as we look at retail in the future. And people have asked us that retail in the future or shopping centers in the future is not about shopping. It's about experience, and customers will come because of an experience. And what I mean is, what else can you give me beside going and spending some money to buy a shirt? Well, you know, that sort of plays into what we have here because we do have entertainment, you know, you have the speed park, you have the aquarium. We have AMC of Dave & Busters. We have sit down dining with Bonefish and Outback and really Chipotle, because they're by themselves. But again, the customer can do more than just come here and buy a shirt or blouse or a pair of tennis shoes.  
You could do that online.  
Right. You can do that online, but  again, you know, when you look at the customer, the millennial, they're all about experiences. What else can you give me? Well, that's what we need to be. We need to look at that from the shopping center business and say, Okay, what else do I need to do? And that's what our leasing people are focused on, you know, is it more entertainment? Is it another restaurant? What is it? And I think that's what's going to be the key to keep the shopping center alive.  
Great stuff. Ray Soporowski, before I let you go, is there somewhere where people can go to see an image or mock up of the flyovers, or a website?
Our website.
Which is?
www.Concordmills.com. And if they're in shopping, if they look up at the big screens that are located by The Gap and Off Broadway, we have had a a pictorial rendering of the flyover up there since the beginning of November with a message saying that, you know, construction to start in January. So we're going to keep that up there, and Sarah's gonna have the message changed to say in construction. You know, that's  gonna be good. They can see exactly what it looks like.  
Wonderful. Okay. Ray Soporowski, general manager of Concord Mills. Thanks so much for spending some time with us today. I appreciate everything you guys are doing, and you guys just keep doing what you're doing. Keep bringing people in and this county is going to continue to thrive.  
Well, thank you very much, Jason. I certainly appreciate the opportunity to speak with you today.  
Absolutely. You guys stay tuned. We'll be right back to wrap up the show in just a moment.
I want to thank Ray Soporowski once again for sitting down with us. I really appreciate him taking the time. I know some of you were saying in regards to the security issue that he pretty much just said what they had already said in previous releases, and you're absolutely right. The reason being is because, according to Ray, this is what he's allowed to say. He's not allowed to go off script, and he's not allowed to elaborate on anything. However, I did talk to him about some security issues. I did ask him about a curfew off the mic. He declined to comment on that. We also talked about the fact that there is a mobile police tower in the parking lot of Concord Mills. Ironically, it is usually stationed outside David & Buster's. However. The night of the shooting, it had been moved to the Bass Pro Shops area, so it was being manned. But the incident took place away from that tower. Maybe they consider buying additional towers? I don't know. I have nothing to back that up. We didn't discuss that, but I do want to let you know that Ray was very adamant in making the point that he and his employees, they worked there too. In fact, they're probably there more than anyone else, usually six, sometimes seven days a week. Their safety is of the utmost concern as well, and he made it very clear that he and his employees feel safe when they're walking around the mall or coming in or out. He felt the need to make that point to me, to remind the public that they are taking security very seriously and in their defense, the things that have happened, that Concord Mills could have happened anywhere and have. There was a shooting at a Wal Mart not too long ago. No one's talking about shutting down Walmart, and I doubt many people have said I'm not going to go shop at Walmart anymore, so you have to keep things in perspective. There was an article recently in The Charlotte Observer by Katherine Muccigrosso. I'm not usually one to quote The Observer, but she actually broke down. She went and did her due diligence to break down crime rates. And this is what she wrote. Concord Mills had the lowest total number of reported crimes, with 888 incidents, and incident could be anything by the way, the analysis showed. Over the last three years, the mall also had the least amount of violent crimes, eight, including the December 28th fatal shooting compared to Charlotte's other large malls. So you see, when you compare Concord Mills to other like establishments in the region, it's still pretty darn safe. So keep that in mind when you are choosing whether or not to go to the mills. If you still don't feel safe, that is your prerogative. Absolutely. I think when we start giving in to thugs and let them overrun an establishment, the way Eastland Mall did, I think we do ourselves a disservice. And ultimately it costs our economy. It results in lost jobs as well as many other things. So I encourage you, don't let losers like these people win. I'll step off my soapbox for now and thank you once again for listening to Up Front with Cabarrus Magazine. Next week, you've read about them in the magazine, now we're going to get up close and personal with some of ourCabarrus Magazine Reader Award winners, so make sure you stick around next week for that episode. Until then, I am Jason Huddle. This is Up Front with Cabarrus Magazine, sponsored by Atlantic Bay Mortgage, Cabarrus Arena and Events Center, Cabarrus Eye Center, CERTEC Automotive, Code Ninjas, Concord Downtown Development Corporation, Family Wealth Partners, Merle Norman Cosmetics and Edie's Salon and Your CBD store of Concord. Always remember to support those that support us, and speaking of support, go shopping.

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