HARLINGEN — The owners of Valle Vista Mall have invested in a major chiller unit that work crews managed to hoist into place last week.
The 245-ton unit had been used atop what is now Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, home to the Cleveland Cavaliers of the National Basketball Association.
“ It’s just a few years old and has very little working hours,” Michael Falzarano, project manager for Kohan Retail Investment Group, the mall owners, said Monday.
“ They were undergoing a new roof install and I guess that 245-ton unit, well whenever there’s a renovation, that size is no longer needed and they have to upgrade to a larger size, so we purchased it,” he added.
Officials declined to say how much the Kohan group paid for the chiller for Valle Vista, but for many city officials and residents concerned about the mall’s finances and its future, any expensive investment will be viewed as positive.
Attorney Felix Reznick, one of three partners in Kohan Retail Investment Group, said Monday the chiller was on the roof of the arena when star LeBron James led the Cavs to their only NBA championship in 2016.
“ It’s got a lot of good luck,” he said. “We dubbed it ‘LeBron.’ LeBron is now in Harlingen, Texas.”
“ We paid less than what we would have paid for a new unit but this unit is practically hardly used,” Reznick added. “It will work for the next 10 or 12 years without an issue.”
Falzarano said there were issues, however, when it came to the installation.
“ The location of the chiller we did replace was peculiar,” Falzarano said of the installation. “To remove that one that was already there, essentially it would have been a huge undertaking so we decided to leave that chiller there and we actually devised a plan to put this chiller on a new section of the roof.”
“ We got as structural engineer and we formulated structural plans including constructing a structural steel reinforced housing unit on top of the roof and we got that constructed,” he added. “It was pretty much an engineering feat getting that done. We managed to finish that last Thursday and we installed the chiller last Friday.”
Like many of the nation’s shopping malls, Valle Vista has had to endure fewer customers and a loss of tenants as shopping habits changed rapidly.
When it opened in 1983, Valle Vista was perhaps the premier shopping destination in the Valley, and drew customers from across the region.
In 2018, of Kohan Retail Investment Group in Great Neck, N.Y., purchased the 651,000-square-foot mall for $12.5 million following its placement on a real estate auction block after ProEquity Asset Management Corp. managed the property.
In 2017, Washington Prime Group had turned the property back to lenders, saying profits had not met expectations.
Even before COVID-19, social-distancing and shutdowns, the mall had been struggling, and recently turned to a loan company to pay delinquent taxes of $434,843 owed for 2019.
But Reznick said despite the economic impact of the coronavirus and the shutdowns on retail, things are looking up.
“ I have no less than three LOI’s (letters of intent). I won’t tell you exactly who it is but on my table. We’re negotiating to get sizeable, 5,000 to 10,000 square-foot-sizeable, renters who will come in and bring foot traffic. We want to lease this place up.”
Reznick said support from Harlingen officials has been strong as well as appreciated.
“ I think the future’s very bright. The EDC (Harlingen Economic Development Corp.) has been great. The mayor’s office has been great. The city planner’s been great, and I cannot say that for some of our other locations. It’s not always the case,” Reznick said.
“ Which is surprising because you don’t want a big eyesore in the middle of town, you want to try to help lease it up,” he added. “We all benefit. There’s an increase in the tax base, I understand that, Raudel (Garza, HEDC executive director) understands that, everybody understands that. I’m very happy we bought this mall.”