Rotterdam Square Mall was the building’s name since it opened in 1988 but, as of Friday morning, it was changed to ViaPort Rotterdam.
The mall’s name change was announced in a tweet from the mall’s Twitter page @RotterdamSquare, which read, “Rotterdam Mall / Rotterdam Square Mall has now been changed to ViaPort Rotterdam.”
The mall manager did not return calls for comment.
The term “ViaPort” comes from Turkish international retail developer Via Properties, which purchased the Rotterdam mall last May for $9.25 million.
The mall has struggled to keep businesses occupying its store spaces in recent years, as it lost some major tenants over the past two years, including T.J. Maxx in March 2014 and Macy’s and Gap Outlet last spring.
The mall lost Tullio’s Hair Studio on New Year’s Eve, and will say goodbye to Things Remembered and Matthew’s Hallmark by the end of the month.
The new owner has discussed investing $10 million in the building, and announced plans that included an aquarium and a family Fun Zone with a bowling alley, arcade games and a sports bar.
The 25,000-square-foot display aquarium is slated to open late next month.
“I think the new name change is crazy,” Tracy Beggs of Berne said Friday. “ ‘What’s ViaPort?’ is the first thing that entered my head. I have no idea what a ViaPort is, and that kind of name doesn’t tell me I want to go shopping there.”
Beggs mentioned that Crossgates mall in Guilderland is owned by the Pyramid Cos., but the average shopper doesn’t know that.
“I understand how the company arrived at the name, but I don’t think it will help people go there,” Beggs, who used to live in Schenectady County and shopped at the Rotterdam mall for 26 years, said. “Not unless they make some big changes and do a great job of announcing it publicly.”
Jamie Charboneau of Broadalbin said he shopped at the local mall as a teen and young adult, but hasn’t much recently since the half-empty building is like a “ghost town.’
“I like the new name, but I think everyone will always refer to it as ‘the Rotterdam mall’ out of habit,” Charboneau said Friday. “I think it’s great the new owners bought it and are actually doing something different and fresh for that area . . . I think change is always a great idea, as long as it’s an improvement.”
Success in Florida
Via Properties also purchased the former Lake Square Mall in Leesburg, Florida, in September 2014, which was similar to the Rotterdam mall when the company bought it.
“Lake Square Mall was basically dying a long, slow death like most malls of its age of 20 plus years,” Michael Rankin, the deputy city manager of Leesburg, said Friday. “Along comes Via Properties. They told me their plans for the mall, and I couldn’t help thinking, ‘I’ve heard that before.’ ”
Then, Rankin said the company changed the Lake Square’s name to ViaPort Florida and erected an eye-catching 85-foot sign with the mall’s new name.
“Before I knew it, everyone was talking about the mall because of the sign,” Rankin recalled.
The company refurbished the floors, walls, brought back major anchor stores, built a Fun Zone and more, he said.
“Every promise and plan these guys have said they’d do, they’ve done,” Rankin said. “The community has embraced everything they’ve accomplished. For the first time in years, people are shopping and taking their kids.
“No one calls it ‘Lake Square’ anymore — that name is long gone,” Rankin added. “The locals call it ViaPort without any reluctance.”
Beggs and Charboneau said they plan to check out the aquarium and Fun Zone when construction is completed and are curious about the future of ViaPort Rotterdam.
“When I first heard about the name change, I admit, I thought ‘There goes the Rotterdam Mall,’ but when I hear about the Florida location, who knows?” Beggs said. “I always hesitate and want to call the Times Union Center the Knickerbocker, but ultimately, the name probably won’t matter.
“With all the improvements, people might forget about what it’s called.”
Rankin said that at the age of 57, he doesn’t like to go to shopping malls, but he frequents ViaPort Florida.
“I challenge anyone who is in doubt to take a flight down here and see ViaPort Florida for themselves,” Rankin said. “Via Properties means business. They follow through.”
Reach Gazette reporter Kate Seckinger at 395-3113, [email protected] or @KateSeckinger on Twitter.