Up to 500 jobs could come to West Oaks Mall via a Xerox Customer Service Center.
OCOEE For years, Ocoee residents, city officials and even tenants at West Oaks Mall have been eager and antsy for Moonbeam Capital Investments' resuscitation plan to take effect.
The opening of a Xerox Customer Service Center this fall in about 70,000 square feet of the former Sears space could hasten that resurgence.
“Officially they haven't told us anything, but we're hearing that they're moving in,” said Evelyn Benton-Phelan, owner of Evelyn's Creations at the mall. “I'm almost sure they're here, because they're letting them in every day, and I think they're fixing everything up. (Tenants) are excited that there's going to be more traffic with the 300 to 500 employees they're going to have.”
District 1 Ocoee Commissioner John Grogan agreed with the idea hundreds of jobs would result in Xerox employees shopping at the mall. Moreover, that would attract others, just by seeing activity with hundreds of cars filling more of the parking lot, Benton-Phelan said.
“They have not personally come and spoken with us – anyone in the city – yet,” Grogan said. “It will be 300 to 500 jobs. All of their contracts, from what we know, it's a call service. Their contracts are with the county, state and federal government.”
This includes a contract with the Central Florida Expressway Authority, he said.
With projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars beginning in Ocoee's commercial and housing corridors, Grogan is hoping Xerox can be another contributor to enhancing Ocoee's economy and statewide image. This influx of jobs could help the city earn grants officials have sought for projects such as a trail connecting to Winter Garden, he said.
“Any way that we can, we're going to support them, and we want them to flourish,” he said. “We're going to do anything we can do on our end, because they're going to be converting a store into an office building.”
As part of a seven-year lease with Moonbeam, Xerox officials have agreed to rework the space into more of an office building to give it a corporate look. Benton-Phelan said refreshing the outer appearance and adding windows would be welcome.
“The skylights throughout the whole mall, that's what attracted me to the mall – it makes me feel like I'm not in a cave,” she said. “I think with the corporate building, it would make their employees all feel more comfortable, work better.”
Most exciting is the seven-year term, which shows tenants there is a commitment to keeping the mall for the community and encourages them to stay, Benton-Phelan said. This is critical because West Oaks Mall is not a destination mall as much as a mall that draws support from locals and vice-versa, she said.
“My feeling is that the mall right now has more small business than corporate businesses – it is definitely known as the boutique-type shopping,” she said. “So I feel that if the bigger stores come in, I don't feel that they will raise our rent or drive us out, because we are the backbone of the mall. We've been here through the tough times. It would be tough for them to raise our rent. Bringing a bigger company will help us to maintain our rent. I don't feel they would force smaller businesses out because of that.”
Although tenants welcome growth, Benton-Phelan said it would make sense from multiple perspectives to continue filling vacancies at West Oaks Mall before looking to take up more of the lot with new construction.
“When you start taking more landscape away, it just messes up the environment,” she said. Keep the existing buildings we have and take care of what we have. We have a beautiful mall. Let's attract other companies with this infrastructure.”
As that employee base grows, the owners of small businesses such as Benton-Phelan's would in turn be able to hire, instead of manning stores themselves all day while waiting for the rebound, she said. This could perpetuate a cycle of a better economy in the mall for everyone, she said.
In her view, the best first step for that would be opening Xerox before Black Friday, which would bolster not just stores' bottom lines but their proprietors' confidence into the new year.
“I think with organic growth … the mall can be saved – with its current name,” Benton-Phelan said. “We can say, 'That was the old West Oaks Mall; this is the new West Oaks Mall.' … When you have a garden, you have to re-cultivate that land, but you can't change the land.”
Contact Zak Kerr at [email protected].