Bonita Lakes Mall: "High hopes for the future"

MERIDIAN, Miss. (WTOK) - According to the East Mississippi Business Development Corporation, over the past ten years, the retail industry has accounted for almost 12.5% of jobs in Meridian. That industry is currently taking a hit. Within the past two months it's been announced that two stores at Bonita Lakes Mall in Meridian will close. This is due to a national drop in sales because of on-line shopping. Those stores are Payless ShoeSource and JCPenny. Amid this news, mall officials say they still have high hopes for the future.

Andrew Paul Kirkley of Hattiesburg is investing in the mall. Early this fall, the entrepreneur is set to open his 6th and largest Fitness Depot in the old Goody's location.

"There's going to be a coffee and juice bar," says Kirkley. "We'll also have a walking track around the perimeter, timed circuit training, classes like zumba and kickboxing and much more."

The 30,000 plus square foot gym will be open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and it will be accessed by members' fingerprints.

"There will be mall security, and I feel like people will feel safe entering and exiting it," says Kirkley.

According to Kirkley, one of the biggest selling points for him for the site was the parking lot. With almost 300 parking spaces, he says that's plenty of room for his clientele to grow.

The general manager for the mall calls the gym a great fit for the building.

"Malls are evolving," says Renee Williams. "So, they're becoming more than just a retail center. They're becoming more of a destination for entertainment, fitness and offices. Malls are going to evolve. So, this is one of the first gyms in the state of Mississippi to open in a shopping center like this. This will probably be a trend that you're going to start seeing all over."

Williams and other members of the mall's management team recently returned from the International Convention for Shopping Centers in Nevada. While there, the delegation met with a number of potential tenants.

"The RockStep team had some wonderful meetings with some potential new retailers to the market. Everybody is optimistic about what the future holds," says Williams. "So, we hope to be able to make some announcements about those within a couple of months."

At the convention Williams says RockStep officials met with representatives from restaurants, non-traditional retailers such as museums and with others from the entertainment industry.
She says says one of the mall's current top priorities is to fill the spaces where JCPenny and Payless ShoeSource are set to close.

"We've got some great plans in place that we're working on for the JCPenny and Payless space," says Williams. "So, malls will continue to exist and continue to thrive."

Here are a few more facts about the Fitness Depot that's set to open at Bonita Lakes Mall.

1. The owner currently has five other Fitness Depots in South Mississippi.

2.The Meridian location will be his largest.

3. The Meridian site will be the first that Andrew Paul Kirkley opens in a full scale mall.