From regular Sunday mariachi band performances to an elaborate “American Idol”-style singing competition called La Estrella de Plaza Mayor, marketing manager Robert Ruiz is working to re-establish the once nearly empty Crossroads Mall as a new center for Hispanic culture in southern Oklahoma City.
“I really love seeing this mall come back to life,” Ruiz said.
A stage has been set up in one recently reopened wing of the mall for La Estrella de Plaza Mayor where 16 local musicians — some who sing in Spanish, some in English — are competing in a two-month singing contest designed to draw crowds back to the mall.
The inaugural round of the contest drew about 1,500 spectators last weekend, Ruiz said.
“We are trying to do more family-oriented things,” said Ruiz, who joined the Plaza Mayor staff earlier this year to breathe life back into the mall. “We want this to be a place where a family can come and spend the entire day shopping, eating and having fun.”
Regular performances of folkloric dancers and an open-air festival in the mall parking lot to celebrate Mexican Independence Day in September are also in the works.
Renamed Plaza Mayor at the Crossroads, the 1970s vintage shopping mall is in the midst of a transformation after an exodus of retailers and a lengthy receivership. Mall owner Raptor Properties bought the 742,500-square-foot mall for $3.5 million in 2011. All of the anchor tenants had fled the property long before the sale.
The project remains in the beginning stages, but there is a clear pent-up demand from businesses seeking to reach Oklahoma City's growing Hispanic population, Ruiz said.
“I think the business community in Oklahoma City is really gets what we are trying to do here,” he said.
New tenants, many targeting business from Hispanics, already are beginning to pop up at Plaza Mayor. A Mexican-style snack shop offering shaved ice and other snacks does brisk business on the weekends. Sol Fashion sells trendy clothing with a Latin flair. The mall also hopes to lure more national tenants to join the mix — a few retailers have already expressed interest, Ruiz said.
Alajandra Romero took a gamble three months ago when she decided to move her taco stand business to a permanent home in Plaza Mayor. Her restaurant Taqueria Guadalajara serves up authentic Mexican street food in a wing of the mall that was entirely dark until recently.
A banner announcing the impending arrival of a clothing store called Chicas Guapas Boutique is now posted across from Romero's taqueria, as well as a sign for Inca Trail, a local Peruvian restaurant.
Although there are still many empty storefronts, Romero is optimistic about the mall's future, the plans for which include a night club, grocery store, and a rodeo arena with seating for 3,500 spectators.
“I love it here,” Romero said. “The events are really brining more people into the mall. I have people telling me all the time that it used to be dead here, but now it's coming back.”
Esmeralda Mendoza moved her clothing boutique La Fiesta Western Wear to Plaza Mayor two months ago from its previous storefront on SW 28 Street. On a recent weekday morning, a few early shoppers strolled through Mendoza's aisles of rainbow-colored cowboy boots and hubcap size chrome-plated belt buckles.
At the mall, Mendoza's shop attracts not just Hispanic shoppers, but people of all backgrounds, she said.
“It's safer here — we have mall security,” Mendoza said. “And we have great support from the mall owners who are really trying to promote the place.”
So far, business has been good for Mendoza.
“I think this is a great project for the Hispanic community to gather us all in one place,” she said.
I really love seeing this mall come back to life.”
La Estrella de Plaza Mayor