By Thomas Ropp
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff
After much anticipation, Alajuela’s City Mall opened Nov. 11. Developers should have waited longer.
I visited the mall Thursday afternoon. I postponed the trip until eight days after the inaugural opening to avoid crowds, which I did. But I could not avoid the unexpected.
City Mall was a mess.
The mall’s developers call it the largest mall in Central America. And it does look big, like a great big mall under attack, an island of massive concrete surrounded by construction.
The problems began with trying to find a place to park. The access roads that should take shoppers to the mall’s underground parking are not finished and don’t appear to be close to finished. There are no signs to help drivers.
Consequently, many people were parking at the old mall (now an outlet mall) and trekking 300 meters through a construction zone of mud, cranes, dump trucks and workers in hard hats to the new mall’s main entrance. The construction issue was so bad, excavation channeled water to the mall after a torrential rain storm the first weekend causing flooding and trapping some shoppers.
But the mall czars can’t place all the blame on the transport ministry’s lagging infrastructure. As of Thursday, workers with jack hammers were still focused on the completion of the mall’s grand terraza. It looked like a water feature (not rain related) might be going in there, too, but it was hard to tell.
Those who survived making it to mall, found a really big mall inside, too. The Christmas displays and giant Christmas tree were very impressive. Unfortunately, the mall inside the mall really wasn’t ready for prime time either.
Mall publicists said 63 percent of the available store space was occupied, but it looked like less than half of the stores were actually open. City Mall is supposed to have a state of the art theater, but it hadn’t opened yet. There was supposed to be a fantastic play park for children. Closed. And much had been made of an amusement park that features manufactured snow. Also not open.
Feeling famished from my hike into the mall, I headed to the food court only to find that the food court wasn’t really a court at all, but more like a food hallway. Picture Multiplaza with its rows of stores.
At City Mall some of the stores are places to eat. That’s right, the Taco Bells and Pizza Huts are mixed in with places to buy shoes.
And as of last Thursday there were only a smattering of restaurants open. The most popular was a restaurant called Hungry, a kind of slower, more expensive Subway. It took me about 30 minutes to get a chicken sandwich. But it was good.
The food hallway also seems to have too few places to sit and eat. Small white tables are pushed together in a narrow band in the center of the hallway. Even though it was a light mall day, almost all the tables were occupied.
I really don’t mean to rag on City Mall. It has the potential to be something special, and more stores and features were scheduled to open over the weekend.
However, I can’t imagine what the planners were thinking by having an opening that was more akin to a very rough sneak preview.
First impressions last forever. City Mall needs to hope its first wave of customers weren’t too bothered by the inconveniences and starkness.
Or it could be a long time between visits.