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Retail Center to Replace Part of Cielo Vista Apartments

September 1, 2015

Retail Center to Replace Part of Cielo Vista Apartments

By Vic Kolenc / El Paso Times / Follow @vickolenc

Posted: 08/29/2015 09:28:53 PM MDT

A rundown, 55-year-old apartment complex located in a bustling retail area along Airway Boulevard in East Central EL Paso is getting new life.

Mimco Inc., a large El Paso shopping center developer, plans to demolish a portion of the sprawling Cielo Vista Apartments complex and build a new retail center.

An El Paso family that operates El Paso area apartment complexes is refurbishing the bulk of the complex, which will remain apartments.

“We like the Airway area and it will be good for the city and the neighborhood to redevelop” part of the complex, said Bob Ayoub, president of Mimco, which specializes in redeveloping properties into new, retail centers.

The company has a long history of redevelopment in the El Paso airport area, including converting a former discount department store at Airway and Montana into a 100,000-square-foot strip center 17 years ago. It also converted a former Safeway supermarket warehouse in the same area into its headquarters.

Mimco bought almost six acres of the Cielo Vista Apartments complex for the proposed retail center. That acreage has several two-story apartment buildings with 106 apartments, including at least one building condemned by the city, Ayoub said.

The Mimco-owned portion of the complex borders Airway and Edgemere and is behind a rock wall.

Another 12 acres of the huge complex, with 34 two-story apartment buildings, was purchased by Larry Boone and his family, who own and manage more than 800 apartments in the El Paso area. Many of the 272 units they bought are being refurbished.

A sign on Catalina Way, near Airway, announces the proposed rezoning from apartments to commercial use of a portion of the Cielo Vista Apartments complex. A retail center is to be built on almost six acres facing Airway. Most of the complex will remain apartments. An El Paso company purchased 272 units and plans to renovate most of them.

“I approached Mimco” about redeveloping the portion of the complex next to Airway because the best use for that area is a shopping center, Boone said.

The complex was owned 26 years by Alternative Building Concepts Group, a not-for-profit organization in Heath, Texas, a Dallas-area suburb. Representatives for that group could not be reached for comments last week about why it sold the complex.

No price was divulged for the property sales, which closed June 1. The El Paso Central Appraisal District appraised the entire complex at almost $4 million this year for taxing purposes.

Mimco’s plans are still preliminary because it first needs to get the 5.3 acres it owns rezoned from apartment to commercial zoning, Ayoub said.

A rezoning hearing is set for Sept. 24 at the City Plan Commission.

The proposed retail center appears to be a better use of that portion of the property, said Carlos Gallinar, deputy director of the city Planning and Inspections Department. The department won’t make its recommendation to the Plan Commission until after Mimco submits a traffic impact analysis of the proposed development, he said.

Michael Adjemian, president of the Cielo Vista Neighborhood Association, said the apartment complex had deteriorated in the last several years, and the association membership supports the redevelopment.

“Aesthetically it will be more pleasing with retail space facing Airway” instead of the rock wall, he said. “Our membership is for anything to beautify El Paso. This is a main gateway to El Paso. It’s heavily traveled.”

Mimco has received interest from restaurant chains, that would be new to El Paso, to locate in the proposed center, Ayoub said.

The company is trying to attract a small grocery store, such as Trader Joe’s, a fast-growing chain of funky, small specialty grocery stores on many El Paso consumers’ wish list.

“We are pursuing a smaller format grocery store for the center, and they (Trader Joe’s) are one of them,” Ayoub said. But, Mimco has not yet contacted Trader Joe’s, he said.

“We haven’t done much marketing and won’t until we get the zoning done,” Ayoub said.

El Paso is not in Trader Joe’s two-year expansion plan, said Rachel Broderick, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles area-based chain with 443 stores. It opened its first stores in Texas in 2012, and now has 16 stores in the state with three more on the way. It has stores in Albuquerque, Tucson, and Phoenix.

“We are chasing people (retailers),” Ayoub said. But getting new retailers into the market has been an ongoing problem because “people don’t understand how good a market this is and what kind of money is available from Mexican shoppers,” he said.

The Fountains at Farah center on the East Side “had that problem, and had some new ones (stores and restaurants) come in, and all had record openings,” he noted.

The proposed center would have seven separate buildings, according to plans submitted to the city. Those plans could change as tenants are signed up, Ayoub said.

Leasing isn’t likely to begin until the end of the year when demolition of the existing apartment buildings on the Mimco acreage may begin, Ayoub said.

Boone’s company has spent more than $600,000 so far to replace roofs on 14 buildings in the Cielo Vista Apartments complex and renovate about 65 to 70 units, Boone said.

Renovations in the entire complex will take about a year to complete, he estimated.

“We had tons of vacancies when we took it over. But we are up to 92 percent occupancy,” Boone said.

Boone said he and his wife, Gail Boone, own about 800 apartment units in the El Paso area. His son, Lee Boone, is the company’s general manager. The apartment complexes operate under a variety of company names, he said.

“I am a redeveloper. I’ve been in the business 45 years. We buy (apartment) buildings with problems, and not cared for. We go in and renovate and turn it into a nice place,” he said.

More information: mimcoinc.com

Vic Kolenc may be reached at 546-6421.

Rudy Gutierrez—El Paso Times An almost six-acre portion of the Cielo Vista Apartments complex along Airway, near the intersection with Edgemere, is slated to become a retail center.

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