- Associated Press - Monday, April 28, 2014

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - If you have ever completed a major home improvement project, you know that it takes a lot less time to remove old flooring than it does to lay new tile.

But some University Park Mall shoppers might be surprised to hear that it will take contractors every bit of the next five-plus months to complete the multimillion-dollar renovation, despite the progress that has been made.

Just 11 weeks into the project, crews already have torn out almost every square inch of worn flooring across the Mishawaka regional shopping center.

In the food court, where the majority of activity is currently centered, the columns have been stripped, restroom fixtures removed and outdated decor eliminated.

After the food court is finished in May, why do contractors still need so much time to complete the project?

The difference between renovating a room or two in your house and updating a 1 million-square-foot mall is that University Park Mall will remain open to shoppers throughout the project.

At home, you can work whenever you want, really, and shut the door to the room that is being renovated.

At a shopping mall, workers in five trades — electrical, plumbing, floor demolition, tile installation and carpentry — cannot start until the last shopper leaves and the doors are locked at 9 p.m.

Then it reopens bright and early the next day.

“They usually take about two hours to set up and have about five hours to work, and then they spend their last hour cleaning up,” mall manager Ryan Ginty tells the South Bend Tribune (http://bit.ly/1j86d7g ). “Working inside a mall, they’ve had to do everything they can to protect the retailers during the tile demolition, which is almost complete.”

As contractors move across the shopping center, they have to cover each storefront with plastic and painstakingly seal any gap between window facades to keep any dust from entering the space, Ginty says.

In the food court, the main area of concentration right now, dust protectants located above each tenant space are unrolled at night to shield the restaurants.

Twenty or more workers are completing a number of tasks, from running conduit to new lights, installing restroom fixtures, building new bar table frames and installing acoustic paneling that will absorb sound.

Shoppers entering the food court are noticing the brand-new cream-colored tile that has been laid during the last week between Jos. A. Banks and American Mattress stores. The tile work will slowly progress through the food court and across the shopping center.

Wood treatments will wrap around the food court columns and accent lighting will illuminate them in the weeks ahead.

“We’ll be able to change the lighting seasonally, so we could use red and green during the holidays,” Irene McKiernan, U.P. Mall director of marketing, describes.

Ginty suggests illuminating the pillars in blue and gold on Notre Dame home football weekends.

Food court seating will increase to more than 500, an increase of more than 150. The seating expansion is especially needed on busy Saturday afternoons.

Various size tables are planned for families and groups, along with high-top tables that cater to shoppers or business people who want to charge electronics.

“We want to encourage our shoppers to stay longer,” McKiernan explains.

Trash receptacles won’t dominate the look of the food court design because new compactors, like those you find in airports, will replace the traditional bins.

“With the new furniture and fixtures, the food court will offer a less-cluttered environment,” Ginty says.

“All the while, contractors have tried not to disturb shoppers with their work,” he adds, alluding to the partitions that hide supplies in the food court during day.

The renovation project began in earnest on Feb. 13 and work should be complete in October, before the start of the holiday season.

Contractors are reporting they are on schedule.

The food court renovation is expected to be complete in mid- to late May, at which time work will shift to the hallway areas until the project is completed.

“Our shoppers and retailers have been extremely cooperative,” McKiernan says.

This marks the first interior mall renovation since 1996 when owner Simon Property Group added the food court. The Village, the lifestyle center addition, was completed in 2008.

University Park Mall opened its doors in 1979 as an anchor and catalyst for the retail and restaurant development that followed on Grape Road and Main Street.

Simon Property Group is investing about $1.1 billion in top mall redevelopment and expansion projects in the U.S. and Asia.

“This has always been a nice, bright mall, and now it will have a new modern look,” says McKiernan.

In addition to the cream-colored tile with accent tile designs that will be featured across the mall, new carpet and soft seating will be placed near each department store. A lot of new neutral paint colors has already been added across the mall.

New family bathrooms are under construction near the children’s play area.

Mall occupancy has been strong, with the addition of several upscale retailers opening their doors during the past year.

“We expect there will be new leasing activity this year,” Ginty says. “We hope retailers are further inclined to grow with us after the renovations are complete.”

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, http://www.southbendtribune.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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