Eight months after opening it to the public, ViaPort Rotterdam is taking steps to expand its popular aquarium.
About 2,000 square feet of education and exhibit space will be added next door as the former CJ Banks clothing store is converted.
The timetable for the work and number of species that will populate the new space is not determined yet, but the area will contain about 20 displays that will follow a fish-to-amphibian-to-reptile transitional path. The additional education space will help accommodate the large number of school groups and home-schooled students who are visiting the ViaPort Aquarium.
“There’s definitely a demand for more classroom space,” said Alan Fanitzi, marketing manager of ViaPort Rotterdam.
The 585,000-square-foot mall formerly known as Rotterdam Square had fallen into a slump when it was purchased in 2015 by Via Properties, a Turkish commercial real estate company. Numerous storefronts were vacant and electrical power had been cut off briefly earlier that year for nonpayment of bills. Two anchor tenants, Macy’s and Sears, pulled out, worsening the situation.
Through investment and promotion, mall management undertook a turnaround. In the past 11 months, the occupancy rate has increased from 60 percent to 78 percent (excluding the old Macy’s store, which is being converted to office space).
Foot traffic and customer visits also are on the rise, for which Fantizi credits the aquarium and other entertainment options: the movie theaters; Tru-Escape, a mystery and escape room; and Via Entertainment, a food and fun venue.
“There’s still a couple of things we want to do, [but] traffic is definitely picking up,” he said. “The aquarium definitely brings a lot of foot traffic into the mall.”
ViaPort has upgraded the fountain in its main corridor to include racing lanes for the radio-controlled boats stationed there. That has proved popular with younger visitors, and cut down on the number of repairs needed on the boats after they are crashed into the fountain walls.
At some point, all of these entertainment options may be combined in a single-ticket package. Add in the dining options, and ViaPort becomes more than the shopping destination that malls traditionally were designed to be.
“We’re really trying to get it to the status of a travel destination,” Fanitzi said. “We’re trying to go a different route than the traditional shopping place.”
New mall tenants
Recent arrivals at ViaPort Rotterdam:
Tru-Escape Mystery Rooms