By Re-Branding It As The Music City Mall, Vista Ridge’s New Owners Think They Can Make The Struggling Lewisville Shopping Center A Destination. Sure, OK.
For the past few years, the best thing the Vista Ridge Mall had going for it was its cat cafe, The Charming Cat Cafe, which, turns out, isn’t really a cafe at all but just a place where you can pay a cover charge to play with cats.
So it’s not exactly a surprise to hear that the owners of the mall wanted out. What is a surprise is that, in this era of dead malls, they found a willing buyer — and, even more curious, a buyer who wasn’t simply interested in the land that the mall occupied, but in actually trying to keep the shopping center’s lights on.
See Also: What Is Dead May Never Die: The Valley View Mall Story. // Valley View Mall Somehow Managed To Avoid Total Demolition And Survive Another Year. What Can We Learn From This Relic’s Remarkable Persistence?
But what, pray tell, is Odessa-based businessman Josh Bushman’s plan for revitalizing his $17.3 million cash purchase? Put simply, it’s following to a tee the model of his similarly sized mall out in oil country, down to the name and all. In November, Bushman’s Investment Corporation of America company announced plans to re-brand Vista Ridge as his company’s latest Music City Mall concept, through which music shall supposedly save the mall, much like it has the record stores and churches of early ’90s movies.
Let’s get this out of the way immediately: The music mall a bad idea — and not just because a) a cursory google search returns dozens of articles from the last year alone lamenting the deaths of shopping malls, including an entire website dedicated to the phenomenon, and b) it’s not located in Nashville, as its name seemingly implies.
The mall has plenty of red flags beyond that. Here are four of them.
- The new design plans are gaudy and dated. In interviews, Bushman has said his company is planning to sink anywhere from $2 million to $4 million in updates to the mall’s design and infrastructure, which, on the surface anyway, sounds like a smart idea. But the ways in which Investment Corporation of America is investing these funds is curious. Beyond a giant second-floor stage surrounded by several large television screens that is being built to host live music acts (a la ’80s pop star Tiffany, who played Vista Ridge as part of a nostalgia grab for a reality TV show in 2014), this money has also been used to purchase and install an eight-foot-by-five-foot edifice engraved with the Ten Commandments, to erect six new outdoor signs sporting a logo that looks engineered specifically to win a “tacky, archaic logo” competition and to raise a new, massive 30-foot-by-60-foot American flag — y’know completely normal additions to a totally normal business, and definitely not items meant to dog whistle this establishment as a safe space for fans of certain kinds of politics.
- John Bushman is kind of a bad person. Bushman is a career opportunist who has amassed his wealth over the years by buying either bankrupt businesses or properties that have been foreclosed on, all while claiming he simply wants to spread a message of “love, peace and hope.” But, despite his claims of wanting to restore Vista Ridge to past glory, his history suggests otherwise. When purchasing property in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Bushman made his priorities clear in a 2013 interview with the Colorado Springs Gazette when detailing one of his past purchases: “We were under contract to buy our first hotel right before September 11, 2001. We were able to get $100,000 knocked off the price after the attacks. It scared us because everything was collapsing in the travel and hospitality business. I couldn’t resist going in and buying anyways.” That’s a direct quote in which he admits that he saw one of the largest tragedies in American history as nothing more than an opportunity to help his bottom line.
- Despite claims to the contrary, new ownership hasn’t really been a boon for growth at the mall just yet. The decline of shopping can be attributed to a number of things, among them the convenience of online shopping. Re-branding Vista Ridge as Music City Mall isn’t likely to change this, despite reports from Richard Morton, Bushamns general manager of the property. In a recent Dallas Observer article, Morton boasted that the mall’s occupancy increased by three points from 72 percent to 75 percent following ICA’s cash purchase of the mall in November. According to Wikipedia, the mall has a maximum occupancy of 130 stores, five of which are designated for anchor tenants such as JCPenney and Dillard’s. Simple math dictates that all a three percent increase means is that maybe four small storefronts have come on board in the last three months. That’s not exactly a windfall.
- The cash purchase of the property belies an ulterior motive. It’s important to make one thing clear: No matter what they say in the press, big money moguls like Bushman are concerned with their ledgers above anything else. His rhetoric of community welfare and a loving, welcoming environment sounds good, but Bushman’s goal here isn’t to revitalize Lewisville but to squeeze it for all it’s worth. Using the tax code to his advantage, Bushman is actually able to save money on the funds he drops into his Music City Mall build-outs. And, without any debt on the property, he stands to save even more money as the property’s value depreciates, even if his rent income from the mall stagnates.
Looked at objectively, Music City Mall is little more than a cute re-branding concept that allows Bushman to sink some money into his property at cost while earning him a few eye-catching headlines from the local press in the process.
Barring a transformation in a popular ironic venue destination for DFW’s greater DIY music community — not exactly likely given the value implications of a business installing the Ten freakin’ Commandments onto their property — there’s just no way this place becomes the destination it says it plans to become.
Its fate as a tacky, charmless, underpopulated, transparently gimmicky and aging eyesore seems pretty clear. But it’s also a little fitting: Viewed through a certain lens, Vista Ridge’s transformation to Music City Mall rather remarkably represents the death rattle of a long-forgotten industry that’s being edged out of public consciousness by retail conglomerates like Amazon.
Under its new ownership’s guidance, this mall has simply become a forgotten anachronism — with décor to match.