The new owner of Vista Ridge Mall has lots of ideas to make the shopping center attractive to families and even for people who don’t care about shopping.
Odessa businessman John Bushman wants to turn the mall into a community space where people can find some "peace and love" in the Ten Commandments, hear some local musicians perform live and take in a giant wave of a 30-foot-by-60-foot American flag outside.
All of Bushman’s other businesses — hotels in Texas, Colorado and New Mexico, other shopping centers and a Chickn4U restaurant in Odessa — display the Ten Commandments engraved on 800-lb stone tablets.
There was no question that the Ten Commandments would also become part of the common space in the newly renamed Music City Mall at Vista Ridge, Bushman said in an interview Thursday. Last month, Bushman’s ICA Properties paid $17.3 million in cash for the Lewisville mall and said it plans to spend another $3 million to $4 million on improvements.
"We’re not trying to overwhelm anyone or make a statement we just believe in the Lord’s love," Bushman said. "That’s the sole reason. We hope when someone sees it, it will touch their heart and give them new hope that day."
There was an issue with the floor of the mall’s second level being able to support a monument with all Ten Commandments.
"We’re putting the two greatest commandments about loving the Lord and your neighbor on the second level because they weigh about a third of the 800-lb. Ten Commandments," Bushman said.
The 8-foot-tall, 5-foot-wide Ten Commandments will be in a visible location too, but on the first level where the floor can handle it, he said.
"In times of turbulence in the world," Bushman said, "we’re sharing peace and the Lord’s love. We all need more of that."
He wants Vista Ridge to be a "wholesome family place" and he said, this time of year that includes Santa who will arrive at the mall on Saturday with free family photos to the first 100 customers. The mall has new Christmas decorations.
Faith-based marketing has been around in American business for a long time. Several large companies profess Christianity as part of the corporate culture and values. Among them are Dallas-based Interstate Batteries Corp., Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby and Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A.
Bushman agreed it’s unusual for a mall to display religious messages. But he thinks it will work in the big city as well as it does in West Texas.
Richard Morton, the mall’s new general manager, said there are changes coming outside the mall too. Six new entrance signs with the new name will be more visible from the highways and a huge 30-foot by 60-foot American flag will be waving from a flagpole.
There’s been some pushback on social media about the Music City Mall’s strategy. It’s worked at the mall Bushman has owned in Odessa for 20 years, Morton said.
Odessa, like Lewisville, is a great place to raise children, Morton said. "Can we be successful in Lewisville doing some of the same things? I think the answer is yes. Anytime a mall can be more open and friendly to shoppers and the community, I don’t see how you can fail."
School groups will be a big part of their free entertainment. There will be music daily even if it’s coming from two new self-playing baby grand pianos. A couple of movable stages are coming. An empty store space will be dedicated to local school art displays or performances.
Twenty, 65-inch TVs are being installed in the common areas for the non-shoppers to watch the big games.
Morton thinks the mall will draw families not only in Lewisville, but also in Coppell and Farmers Branch.
Not everyone is so sure inviting in music is a way to fix the shopping center.
Ginger Slavens, 34, of Lewisville, said she would rather see the mall become more like Frisco’s Stonebriar Centre with its updated and trendy tenants, or bring in new technology that integrates social media into the shopping experience.
"Lewisville has a chance to make a statement, and they are going to turn it into the Grand Ole Opry," Slavens said. "And that is exactly the crowd that they are going to attract. Odessa is not like Lewisville in any way."