Oakland Mall gets new owner, fresh vision as a 'non-elite' space
A farmer's market, hipster art and an emphasis on value to meet the needs of Metro Detroit families are some of the elements of the vision outlined Monday by the new owner of the Oakland Mall.
Troy-based MKiezi Investments LLC, founded in 2013 by developer Mario Kiezi, 31, has acquired the 1.5-million-square-foot Troy shopping center that opened in 1968 from California's CenterCal Properties LLC for an undisclosed price. Kiezi imagines the acquisition as a "mall of the people" — a "non-elite" space at the heart of Metro Detroit serving the next generation of families to separate it from nearby Somerset Collection.
“This is one of the sleepiest sites in Metro Detroit that we are going to wake up,” Kiezi said. “We want it to be a community where you can shop, have fun and eat. We live in a world of experience where people want to see things in real life and experience them.”
Unlike some other Metro Detroit malls, Oakland Mall has fared well through the COVID-19 pandemic: It has a healthy 90% occupancy rate with anchors including Macy's, JCPenney, Dick's Sporting Goods and At Home. A Hobby Lobby is opening later this year in the former Sears store that Kiezi acquired last year for $15 million and has redeveloped. Longhorn Steakhouse will replace the former Logan’s Roadhouse at the southeast corner of the property.
For the mall, Kiezi's team has retained GH+A Design Studios in Detroit to reimagine it as a destination. He did not share a redevelopment budget, but ideas under consideration are around placemaking, including using outdoor spaces.
"Brick and click" concepts would support physical and online shopping needs. Restaurants and chefs could rent out 20 to 30 takeout and delivery "ghost kitchens" sized between 225 and 400 square feet for 10% of the cost of a typical lease. Kiezi welcomes the current big brand names, but he emphasizes the mall will be a place for local and national "makers" and small businesses. A slime experience and other entertainment could make it a cool place for children and families, too, Kiezi said.
"We’re just building on the momentum that’s already here," he said. "We’re going to utilize every square inch of the mall."
It's the shopping center in which Kiezi grew up. When he was 9 and 10 years old, he shadowed his family members working at their store in the mall, Antoine’s Ice Cream.
"Oakland Mall has a lot of sentimental value," he said. "It's where I got an eye for retail, in my opinion."
Negotiations for the purchase began in the fourth quarter of last year. The sale closed Friday. The project will emphasize inspiration from Kiezi's family and input from the community and the 17,600 followers on video app TikTok under @mariokiezi he's earned since joining the platform a little more than a month ago.
"I want to teach the world, not just my friends. It was hard for me to get on there, but I broke out of my shell," he said. "We’re going to poll people, ask for inspiration, read comments. If they mention something, and it has merit, we’ll consider it. I want to connect with the next generation. Quite frankly, I look for inspiration from others."
Kiezi's firm has acquired, developed and managed more than 2 million square feet of commercial real estate space in Michigan and Ohio. Other acquisitions include High Point Shopping Center in Novi and Auburn Plaza, Napi Shoppes and Shelby Square in Shelby Township.
Crain's Detroit Business first reported the sale. It's the latest shakeup in the Metro Detroit mall scene as the shopping centers struggle to recover amid the pandemic.
Fairlane Town Center in Dearborn was expected to come under new ownership this month, and The Mall at Partridge Creek in Clinton Township could be sold out of receivership after the troubled shopping centers came under new management last fall.
Kiezi says Oakland Mall is different. For the most part, it's a single-story mall that is easily accessible.
"We’re in the heart of Ferndale, Birmingham, Madison Heights, near Clawson," he said. "We're 16 minutes from downtown Detroit. It's a pin drop right in the community."