GRAPEVINE — It’s been more than 16 years since the opening of Grapevine Mills mall, featuring outlet stores, restaurants and entertainment venues — such as Virgin records and GameWorks — that had never been seen before in North Texas.“Nobody else around had anything like it,” said Joe Szymaszek, general manager of the mall, which was promoted as “the largest outlet and value retail destination shopping destination in North Texas.” More than 100,000 people converged on the mall, which was as much about entertainment as about shopping, on opening day, signaling the start of an unprecedented retail boom in Northeast Tarrant County.The mall was considered a coup for Grapevine, which used tax breaks to lure developers to the location.“We decided we wanted a discount mall and we went after it,” longtime Mayor William D. Tate said at a recent council meeting.Grapevine City Manager Bruno Rumbelow said the mall “is a major revenue center for the city — because of the sales taxes generated and because it is a major tourism draw that generates over 14 million visits to our community.”After Grapevine Mills came Bass Pro Shops, the Dallas Cowboys Golf Club, the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center and Great Wolf Lodge. Restaurants, hotels and other businesses cropped up nearby, along Texas 26 and Texas 121.All in a city of nearly 50,000 best-known for a wine festival and quaint downtown.“It’s a fabulous piece of real estate that is located close to the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport,” said Szymaszek, who joined Grapevine Mills not long after it opened Oct. 30, 1997. “It combines Grapevine’s intimacy with the larger DFW market.”Grapevine Mills totals more than 1.7 million square feet and has more than 20 anchors and about 200 specialty retailers, as well as a variety of theme restaurants and casual dining spots. They include Saks Fifth Avenue Off Fifth, Neiman Marcus Last Call — the company’s clearance chain — Michael Kors and Coach. It also has entertainment venues, such as AMC Theatres, which offers a dining.Some of the mall’s early big attractions are no longer there — GameWorks closed in 2010 and Virgin in 2009 — but others such as the Sea Life Aquarium and Legoland Discovery Center have stepped up to add to the mall’s “shoppertainment” concept.Those additions, coupled with a multimillion-dollar face-lift scheduled to begin in September, should keep Grapevine Mills a major retail destination in the region.‘Major revenue center’Renovations include improved lighting, resurfacing the mall’s wood floors, fancier storefronts, updated restrooms, expanded dining in the food court and additional seating. Most construction will be done at night so as not to interfere with access for shoppers.“We’re making the stores look more contemporary and relevant to today,” Szymaszek said. The remodeling is a sign that mall owner Simon Property Group is committed to making the mall attractive to locals as well as travelers, he said. Travelers make up about 35 percent of shoppers annually.When most of the construction is complete — probably by the 2015 year-end holidays — the popular carousel in the food court will continue to turn heads.Walking and shopping The mall, with a 1-mile circumference floor, is popular with walkers who like a safe, weather-proof environment. Al and Marian White of Euless can be found most mornings at 7:30 walking the mall. He logs 10 to 12 miles, and she does 4 to 6.“It’s great,” said White, father of three and grandfather of eight, adding that he and his wife have been mall walkers since it opened.Before that, they walked outside but had to contend with “cars, the smell and dogs that bite.”“We needed a place that was secure and environmentally friendly,” said White, in his 70s. “It’s clean and it’s pleasant. It’s a really nice place.”They occasionally visit with other exercisers, including a group of moms they affectionately call the “stroller brigade” — those “working to get back in shape after having a baby,” White said.April and Jason Hastings of Irving enjoy the bargains, which they find at stores ranging from the Bass Pro Shop (across the street from the mall) to Sun & Ski Sports to Bed, Bath & Beyond.On one shopping spree, they were loaded down with packages, including comforters for them; a jacket, jeans, sweat pants, five T-shirts and a sweater for their teenage son, Colton; a coffeemaker and other gifts for relatives; board games; and calendars.“We look forward to this,” April Hastings said.Tax breaks and sales tax From the start, Grapevine has had a symbiotic relationship with its sprawling mall. A series of tax breaks was a key element in getting the mall up and running.The original mall incentive was valued at $27.5 million in the form of a tax increment finance district that covered the construction of roads, parking areas and utilities, said Dan Truex, Grapevine economic development manager. Grapevine relies heavily on sales tax for revenue. “The collection of retailers and restaurants in Grapevine Mills mall forms the largest retail center in Grapevine at approximately 1.7 million square feet in area,” Truex said. “Most of our retail sales come from visitors who live outside of our community and the taxes on their purchases assist the city in maintaining a high level of service to the citizens of Grapevine.”Truex said the city’s strong hospitality and entertainment markets also help retailers by bringing more people to the community and keeping them longer to spend money.Two major assets are the Gaylord Texan Resort, which opened in April 2004, and Great Wolf Lodge, which offically opened in January 2008. Both are about a mile from Grapevine Mills.The city has not raised its property tax rate since 1996 and has even lowered it at times. It is now 34 cents per $100 of property valuation, one of the lowest in Dallas-Fort Worth.In 2011, the city undertook a study that addressed the impact of the mall after “the mall had indicated that they were going to be doing a major renovation and requested incentives from the city,” Truex said.TXP, an Austin-based economic and public policy consulting firm, was commissioned to assess the impact of the mall on the local economy and the benefits and need for the renovation.According to the study, “Grapevine Mills’ renovation represents reinvestment in one of the city’s most well-known tourism assets.”The study noted that “despite a challenging retail environment and changing consumer preferences, the retail sector remains a major driver of the Grapevine economy.”At the time of the study, it said that Grapevine Mills “supports about 1,800 to 2,000 workers per year — or 25 percent of total retail sector employment citywide.”But the picture is not completely rosy.The challenge facing Grapevine, according to TXP’s 2011 study, is “greater competition from surrounding cities, increased online shopping and turnover of mall tenants.”Szymaszek said he looks forward everyday to tackling that challenge.“It’s the most fun you can have and get paid,” he said.
Marty Sabota, 817-390-7367