Blue Mall Cupecoy finally announces soft opening

POSTED: 12/28/12 1:07 PM

St. Maarten – The Blue Mall in Cupecoy was about to become the butt of jokes and the cause of utter bewilderment because the long ago heralded opening did not materialize. But now the first stores have opened for business. Enjoy SXM, Fashion and Chic, Swarovski, Swatch Watches, restaurant Bacchus and Yogen Früz open every day from noon until 8 p.m.

In a press release the Blue Mall announced that the first three floors of the humongous building will become “fully operational” in the first quarter of next year. The Mall announced the gradual opening of another 24 stores. When this becomes a reality, the Blue Mall will finally come to life after years of uncertainty and postponed opening announcements. But the project has 110,000 square feet of shopping floor to fill, so it still has a long way to go.

The $60 million-project announced at the beginning of this year that it would officially open on February 17. That did not happen, and at the time general manager Omar Becerra said that the huge mall would open in stages. In August, Jeff Berger’s online St. Martin Weekly News reported that the mall would launch a so-called soft opening in October – or November; that remained unclear. The fall was another term used to make people think that sooner or later at least something was going to happen.

But until yesterday the Blue Mall kept a low profile, if that is possible for such a huge building. Last time we visited there was some activity on several floors, but the overwhelming impression was one of emptiness and despair.

The project started ambitious when then Labor Commissioner Hyacinth Richardson toured the complex more than three years ago on July 24, 2009. Developer Luis Gioia talked about some minor delays, but he promised that the mall would be completed by December of that year. The project was scheduled to be fully operational by June 2010 and the “grand opening” was on the books for December.

But – as we reported in February – things did not go according to plan. Gioia got caught up in court cases with the former head of Vrom, Delano Richardson, who was sentenced for an attempt to squeeze a bribe out of the developer. In court, Gioia said that he had already paid $1 million for the building permit. Later it turned out that this was a commitment to build a proper road from the complex towards the Atlantis Casino in Cupecoy.

The developer said at the time that the Blue Mall will provide 500 jobs but with just a bit more than 30 shops by the end of the first quarter of next year, that still seems to be a bit of a stretch. Commissioner Hyacinth Richardson then made a controversial remark, after stressing the importance of employment for locals: “Bringing in foreign employment will get government support.”

As the delays kept piling up, so did the rumors. One of them had to do with the impressive building’s top floor. In the original set up this was to be Piso 5 (Floor 5): the mall’s culinary and entertainment center. But when the project did not get the swing the developer expected, rumors briefly surfaced that Francesco Corallo was going to open a casino on that floor. That did not even sound like a bad idea, though the island’s casino policy does not allow for the opening of more stand-alone gambling places. The rumor died and the floor remained empty.

In February Becerra said that the first phase of the opening would be restricted to the first three floors. That probably made sense – no entrepreneur is looking forward to being the only store on an otherwise empty floor. At least one business has been reported as turning its back on the project and that is Dunkin Donuts. Maybe not the example par excellence of the high-brow shopping experience the Blue Mall designers had in mind but still, it was not a good sign.

On its website, the Blue Mall still maintains: soft opening coming soon. Under the News Button there is no news, or maybe there is: the mall lists the names of four stores there: Planeta Sports, a Venezuelan franchise, Kiton, an Italian clothing, perfume and apparel store, Paul & Shark, an Italian clothing and accessories store, and Opera, a company that offers a “multi-shop concept” with brands like Hackett, Carolina Herrera and Tumi y Salvatore Ferragamo.

Visitors of the Blue Mall website could be tempted to think that the place is in full swing. While that is not (yet) the case, at least there is now a beginning. In the meantime, anticipating better times, this is how the company presents the project to the world: “Offering a unique and unparalleled shopping experience in the Caribbean, Blue Mall blends the best of modern architecture with the openness of the Caribbean lifestyle, the Blue Mall has created an oasis within St. Maarten, offering a unique and delightful shopping experience. By providing ample parking, along with a cool refreshing atmosphere, Blue Mall provides the perfect environment for their customers to go shopping comfortably at their spacious stores showcasing a wide variety of well-known products and services. With over 110,000 square feet of shopping, Blue Mall offers stores and world name brands such as Diamonds International, Swaroski (probably: Swarovski – ed.), Salavatore Ferragamo, Carolina Herrera, MNG, Calvin Klein, Guess and more.”

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