ARLINGTON — In a little more than a month, G.L. “Buck” Harris will realize his goal of reopening the defunct Six Flags Mall as a Hispanic-themed shopping center called Plaza Central.Last week, Harris received a certificate of occupancy from the city of Arlington that allows him to start conducting business. On Friday night, he held a dinner for the roughly 120 tenants who have leased space in the shopping center and have waited patiently to get their businesses up and running.Several tenants should begin moving in this week and setting up their stores, he said. Tenants were also required to obtain operating licenses from the city, Harris said. Grand opening events will run Aug. 1-15.This week he has started advertising the mall’s availability on Spanish-language radio stations. “We are short a lot of medium and large tenants,” Harris said. “I want this to be something Arlington can be proud of.” Henry Lewczyk, vice president of marketing and business development for the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, said the group is glad to see the property being put back to use.“Very much so,” Lewczyk said. “We encourage and appreciate the private investment being made in our growing community. We certainly hope for a successful business venture, not only for the investors, but the future tenants and ultimately the customers. It will be a boost for the area.”Since buying the property in December 2012, Harris said, he has worked tirelessly, six days a week, to get the former mall property back into shape. Store spaces have been swept and cleaned. Small, colorful paper signs are now taped to them listing the new tenant or whether the space is still for lease.Floors are polished and seating areas are in place. For the most part, when the property was foreclosed, the lender locked the doors and left everything in place. The corridors appear as they did when the mall was operating, down to the decorative, wood flag insignias that hung from the walls. A few Christmas decorations are still in place. Harris bought the nearly 364,000-square-foot center portion of the former mall at Texas 360 and Division Street. The purchase included the former J.C. Penney anchor site. In April, he bought the former Macy’s space, but turned around and sold that to Canales Real Estate, which said it will use the 187,000-square-foot space for a store and showroom.Many of the spaces are leased to small shop owners, he said. Harris said he’s hoping to land a grocery store for the Penney’s space, but said he’s considering an offer he’s received for the anchor space. He declined to say who the offer is from.Harris, 78, a former minister who operated a large antique dealership in Fort Worth for five decades, has taken about five store spaces and is reopening them to sell antiques. His stores are already filled with merchandise.Harris said he feels blessed that he has made it this far with the project, having faced obstacles from the city of Arlington. Earlier this year, a federal judge in Dallas dismissed a suit Harris filed against the city. In it, Harris alleged the city violated his due process and tried to prevent him from pursuing the development by requiring him to re-plat the property before issuing building permits.The judge agreed with the city that the property needed to be replatted first. The re-plat was required for the certificate of occupancy.He’s also suing the Woodmont Co. in Fort Worth, which sold the mall for the bank. Harris said the real estate firm misrepresented the condition of the property. Woodmont has denied those allegations in court documents. Harris is also challenging the property’s appraisal from the Tarrant Appraisal District.“Except for the goodness of God, I would have lost my down payment, which was well over $1 million,” Harris said. “It’s the truth if I ever said it; it was God that laid this on my heart to buy this.”Harris said he has invested about $10 million in the property, which includes what he paid to buy it from the International Bank of Commerce. The bank foreclosed on the property in 2008.Once the mall is profitable, Harris said, he will follow through with plans to donate it to Youth With A Mission, a Christian volunteer group. He hopes that will happen within a year. The group says it is a nonpartisan, international movement with 1,000 offices in 180 countries involving 25,000 volunteers. Harris has spent some money having wrought iron and store features built on the southwest side of the property and Spanish-style murals painted on exterior walls. Other murals are planned for the interior, he said.Harris does not own all the former mall property. The former Sears store is owned separately; Dillard’s owns its space and operates a clearance center there; and Cinemark still operates a theater.
Sandra Baker, 817-390-7727 Twitter: @SandraBakerFWST