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LIVONIA, MI-The owner of the 86-store Livonia Mall is switching focus, a spokesman says, in order to bring life back into the 38-year-old complex on Seven Mile Road. Jack Shenkman, who’s owned the mall since it was built, wants to build up the value of the mall and sell it, says Karl Zarbo, vice president of operations.

Zarbo says doing that has cost time and effort, and the upgrade is progressing. He tells GlobeSt.com there are a few plans in progress to consolidate the many tenants. One plan entails bringing in big-box retailers into themall to add to the current anchors of Sears, Mervyn’s and Value City.

“If we could just put all the space together for a few large tenants, ultimately the result would enhance the value of the asset,” Zarbo says.

The VP was hired by the 81-year-old Shenkman in 1999. Zarbo says the primary goal is to create an attractive package to a future buyer.

“If I can create the situation where the value is high and the mall is in the best position to be sold, there’ll be cause to celebrate,” Zarbo says.

He says he joined the mall team when the complex was undergoing massive losses in revenue, and operating at a 40% vacancy. Zarbo compared the situation to treating a triage patient.

“There were a lot of short-, mid-, and long-term problems,” he says. “We just had to come in and start treating the wounds, and work to get to where it can walk on its own.”

After consolidations, renovations and massive window dressing, the mall has risen in occupancy to 92%, Zarbo says.

Sales are about $250 per sf for most of the mall, not including jewelry stores, Zarbo says. He declined to average out lease prices.

One renovation plan was rebuilding the Livonia Theater in the mall, vacant for six years. The theater opened again in July. Also, he said he chose to bring in mostly local stores, bucking a national trend.

“The trend has been to go with mostly nationally-recognized chains,” Zarbo says. “We thought if we were going to go with a long-term plan, our best leasing strategy would be to choose local stores.”

He said the aging mall can’t compete with malls such as 12 Oaks Mall in nearby Novi or the Somerset Collection in Troy. “Our goal is that if shoppers want high-profile fashion stores, they can shop at those malls, but we’ll bring them in for other needs,” Zarbo says.

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