A shopper walks into a near empty Esplanade Mall in Kenner, La. Tuesday, June 22, 2021.?

An Illinois-based real estate investment group has formally closed on its purchase of The Esplanade in Kenner, though its plan for repurposing the vacant shopping mall into a mixed-used development is still in the works.

“Everything is up in the air,” said Marshall Nguyen, a partner at Pacifica Square USA, which bought the 700,000-square-foot property in partnership with Windfall USA in a deal that closed Friday.

The sale included the now-shuttered indoor mall and the long-vacant Macy’s building. It didn’t include the Dillard’s or Target department stores, which have separate owners and are both still open.

Nguyen declined to disclose the purchase price. So, too, did Felix Reznick of 4th Dimension Properties, which sold the property alongside New York-based Kohan Retail Investment Group.

The sale documentation was not yet available on the Jefferson Parish Clerk of Court's Office website.

The deal comes as developers are rethinking how to breathe new life into struggling suburban malls and follows plans to turn the former Clearview Mall five miles away in Metairie into a mix of apartments, shops and restaurants.

Nguyen said they’re working on a “few different ideas" for redeveloping The Esplanade, and said they hope to incorporate “uses that draw people to the center.” The out-of-state buyers plan to visit the site Tuesday and Wednesday.

Given south Louisiana’s climate, Nguyen said they’re reconsidering an earlier idea to remove the glass roof above the mall’s arteries to create an “open air” concept.

“We have to keep in mind that it's pretty hot in New Orleans,” he said.

Initially, the sale appeared to hinge on the mall keeping a key tenant: the city of Kenner, which moved into the Macy's building in the weeks following Hurricane Ida.

But Mayor Michael Glaser, who took office in July, said he made clear that was off the table. The city of Kenner terminated its lease at the department store in December.

“It’s better to have taxpaying businesses in that location than city government,” Glaser said.

Once a retail magnet for east bank shoppers, offering a Macy’s, Mervyn’s, food court and two floors of stores, The Esplanade in recent years has fallen into physical and economic distress. After Ida battered Kenner and the mall, it was shut down for good, with the exception of the Target and Dillard’s.

Nguyen offered few details Monday on what’s next. However, in an October interview with The Times-Picayune, he said they hoped to turn The Esplanade into a place where people can “live, work and play,” with a grocery store, hotel, food hall and apartments alongside “businesses and concepts that force people to be present,” like arcades and trampoline parks.

Kenner City Council member George Branigan said that would be a “gamechanger” for Kenner, likening the mix of residential and commercial offerings to that which exists in the French Quarter.

It’s unclear what incentives local and state government will offer the new owners to develop the property. Jerry Bologna, president of the Jefferson Parish Economic Development Commission, said the agency has discussed “various incentive and financing options” but that conversations are ongoing.

Branigan said he hopes whatever deal is struck will bolster the city’s coffers. “We don’t want to give the farm away,” he said. “The city of Kenner needs cash flow.”

The previous owners of The Esplanade left hundreds of thousands of dollars in property tax unpaid, causing Jefferson Parish in 2020 to take over the title to two parcels of land at the shopping center. Reznik said those “will be paid,” though he declined to elaborate.

The Esplanade’s new owners are meeting with city officials this week, and Nguyen said they’re considering creating a Facebook group where residents can chime in on what they’d like to see in the redevelopment.

“Our success is going to be very dependent on the support of the community,” Nguyen said. “When you take care of the community, they’ll take care of you.”

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