MIAMI (CBSMiami) – If you visit the Shops at Sunset Place in South Miami on a Wednesday afternoon, you’ll find empty escalators, deserted thoroughfares and a lack of people. The property’s new owners say that’s all about to change. “We’re gonna make this much lighter and much brighter and we’re gonna make it more open to the street,” George Spillis said, walking through a darkened area of the mall, near the entrance off Sunset Drive. Spillis grew up near the area and he says he feels a personal responsibility in turning around the mall that has struggled for years.“This is an example of a concrete jungle,” he said. “There’s nothing here that says, ‘Come here. Hang out here and be part of the community.'” Specifically, the group wants to turn the architecture inside out – opening stores and restaurants to the street, adding sidewalks, large trees for shade and tons of other amenities, like a park along Red Road. They also plan to add a hotel and two apartment towers. They believe residents will help support businesses in the area where more and more empty store fronts are popping up.“Our objective is to create the neighborhood that filters in those resident that support the retailers,” Spillis explained. The property was purchased by Grass River, Federal Realty Investment Trust and Comras Company in 2015 for $110 million. Elena Linares closed her Razzle Dazzle barber shop in South Miami in December after 2 years of lagging business. “I chose to close my business because I’m not gonna sit around for years while there’s construction right across the street from my business,” she said. However, she’s confident that, if done properly, change could be good for Sunset Place. “It is time to change what’s happening in South Miami,” she said. “Hopefully things will turn around.” It may be too late to save Linares’ shop, but South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard is confident a design that is pedestrian friendly and takes advantage of the nearby Metrorail, while also bringing in new residents, will be successful. “It’s gonna add shoppers,” Stoddard said. “It’s gonna add diners and it’s gonna help our business district stay alive.” Stoddard believes that the current design failed because developers put a mall in a pedestrian business neighborhood. “It was designed to be self-contained and that’s not how you design in South Miami,” Stoddard said. Some things will remain like the movie theater, LA Fitness and GameTime store. The proposed changes are being considered by the city’s planning department and likely won’t be up for discussion by the commission for months. Until then, George Spillis will continue to pitch his vision for an area that he says is ripe for improvement. “Make it a place where people feel welcome and feel like this is the living room of South Miami once again,” he said.
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