Houston retail investment firm RockStep Capital is the general partner for an investment group that has purchased nine properties near Bonita Lakes Boulevard, including Bonita Lakes Mall and Bonita Lakes Crossing, RockStep President Andy Weiner confirmed Monday. The properties were purchased Wednesday. Weiner declined to disclose any financial arrangements.
“RockStep Capital is a real estate investment company. We invest our investors’ capital in shopping centers throughout the country where we can find good business opportunities for low risk,” Weiner said. “Our mission as a company is to make small town America better. We do this by aligning the success of the asset with the community. We do this in multiple ways. We invest our own capital in every investment, we manage and lease the properties ourselves and we work with the city to obtain support from the city prior to acquisition.” Weiner said many city and county leaders were instrumental in the deal.
“Mayor Percy Bland and his staff have been extremely helpful and supportive. Without their encouragement and support, we most likely would not have purchased this property,” Weiner said. “In addition, this property is on 16th Section land. We would not have been able to purchase the land unless the Lauderdale County School District and board amended the 16th Section lease. I want to give a huge thanks to the Superintendent (Randy Hodges), the school board, and their attorney, John Compton, all of whom were instrumental in amending the 16th Section lease so we could purchase the property.” Weiner also credited other individuals concerned with the deal.
“In addition to the support from the city, we needed the support from a major community bank. We are very fortunate that we found Citizens National Bank, based here in Meridian. President Archie McDonnell gave us very strong support and provided the lending for the purchase. I want to thank Archie and his staff, particularly Michael Truelove, for all their efforts in completing the loan,” Weiner said. “One other person was instrumental in the project. I want to thank Bruce Martin of Meyer & Rosenbaum Insurance for all his assistance in working through various community issues to get to the closing. Bruce is an amazing cheerleader for this community, and he really opens doors; he just gets things done.”
Weiner said Meridian’s Mitchell Signs is upgrading its signs for the property and they should be ready by the end of the year. Mitchell Signs has worked on various RockStep projects throughout the country.
“Mitchell Signage President Tim Hogan and Account Manager Kyle Edmonds have been working with RockStep Capital to develop a new signage strategy over the last six months, and they have been aided by the designer, Amanda Springer, and the estimator, Ross Dial,” Weiner said. “All designs and manufacturing of signage will be done in Meridian. It will take six to 12 months for new signage to be installed.” Weiner said he believes it is important to keep business local.
RockStep Capital has purchased the leasehold interest to seven other buildings along Bonita Lakes Boulevard, including Geoffrey’s, Citizens National Bank, Great Southern Bank, O’Charley’s Restaurant & Bar, plus several other buildings.
“We will be renaming the entire development for all nine buildings as Bonita Lakes,” Weiner said. “We are very excited to have this opportunity. We’ve been attempting to purchase this property for the last three years. CBL Properties, based out of Chattanooga, sold the property to us. CBL is a very strong landlord, and we were impressed how they managed this property.”
Weiner said RockStep Capital has purchased or developed more than six million square feet of shopping centers in nine states. “We are very excited to be here in Meridian and believe this is a very strong and steady community,” Weiner said. Weiner said the current local management team will remain intact, including Bonita Lakes Mall Manager Renee Williams.
“We are thrilled to have her on board,” Weiner said. “We are planning to upgrade signage, improve security, bring in new tenants and upgrade the movie theater. In addition, we will have major community events and programs in the mall. Non-profits, school groups, church groups, fund-raising organizations like United Way, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, health fairs—all these type of organizations are welcome to use the common areas for free. Just contact Renee Williams at the mall to do so.” Weiner said identifying local investors was key.
“Our goal was to obtain three local investors to invest alongside myself and our existing group of investors. Currently we have 16 investors from Meridian who are now going to be owners of Bonita Lakes,” Weiner said.
Weiner said the final number of local investors could exceed 20. He said investors also come from throughout Mississippi including Starkville, Jackson, Madison, Columbus, Natchez and Vicksburg, plus out of state investors.
We will institute a very aggressive leasing program. We are here to get deals done,” Weiner said. “We currently have 107 tenants, and we plan to add 3-5 new tenants per year. We will help incubate new businesses. If a business owner wants to open up in our property and has a strong business plan with a very high level of merchandising flair, please talk to use. We will be very pro-active in getting deals. A strong focus will be restaurant users, either in the food court or in a space at the entrance to the mall. We are giving financial support to restaurants that want to come into the property. To lease, please contact Tommy Stewart at 713-554-7602.”
Weiner said that Bonita Lakes, in what is becoming a national trend, will become more of a mixed-use facility. Tenants could include educational institutions, medical offices, government offices and traditional corporate users.
“Community colleges, doctors’ groups—even government agencies—want to improve their branding and have the convenient amenities associated with this type of facility,” Weiner said.
Weiner said signing of some of the anchor new tenants and theater upgrades could take 2-3 years to complete. Many of the available opening slots for the larger retailers are already filled for 2017. Bland has indicated the city will reopen the police substation near the theater and make it fully functional.
“We also want to expand activities for children 1-7 years of age,” Weiner said. “We are looking for restaurants and retailers that target that demographic. We will be very aggressive with lease rates and tenant improvement dollars. We welcome all inquiries.” Bonita Lakes Mall was built in 1997 for between $80-$90 million. It has 107 tenants in the mall and other properties.
“Tenant sales are strong given the size of this market. Tenant sales will continue to rise,” Weiner said. “The number of tenants we have in this development is more than triple any other commercial project within 90 miles.”
Ollie’s in Bonita Lakes Crossing opens June 8. American Deli, a food court tenant near the theater, is expected to open by July 1. Bonita Brow Bar in the mall just opened.
Before entering the real estate business, Weiner managed operations for a chain of 150 clothing stores in Texas and Louisiana. Half of the stores were in major metro cities, while the other half were in communities the size of Meridian. RockStep Capital owns shopping centers in Meridian, Starkville, Vicksburg and eight other states, primarily in secondary and smaller communities.
“We are very optimistic about the future of this property and the future of Meridian,” Weiner said. “Meridian is a wonderful community.”