Andrew Azar transforms Southdale Plaza despite pandemic

Wednesday Dec 15, 2021 BY VERNON DAVIDSON Executive editor — publications

Andrew Azar points to the renovated Shoppes at Southdale plaza at the soft opening on November 24, 2021. Azar, who bought the plaza just before the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic, said his vision for the property was to uplift the landscape, while ensuring it was a good investment. (Photos: Joseph Wellington) 

Andrew Azar admits he’s always had a preference for investing in real estate.

“I like to see the concrete. I like to walk on it,” he told the Jamaica Observer on November 24, the day his latest investment — Shoppes at Southdale — had a soft opening.

He remembers the former Southdale Plaza from his days as a youngster, saying that, in his eyes, it was one of the worst shopping malls in the capital city.

“When it did come up for sale I had a vision for it, which is what you see here. I thought it would uplift the landscape and it would be a good investment at the same time,” Azar explained, pointing to the refurbished plaza which he acquired just before the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“It was the worst time to do business; people wanting shops but there was no business, so that put us on a one-year delay,” he said.

“But, it’s like you have a blank canvas and you visualise something and then you build it to your dream. This is prime real estate in Kingston, so we wanted to put up something prime,” added Azar, who said his company, LP Azar, paid “upward of US$2.5 million” for the property and then pumped more than US$1.5 million into the rebuilding.

“Sometimes it’s easier to build than to renovate what is actually there,” he said, pointing out that the sewerage system, electrical wiring, and the roof were in horrible condition.

“So we had to rip it down to the bare bones and build it back.”

The transformation has left many people who are familiar with the old Southdale Plaza wide-eyed and O-mouthed, and they spare no effort in commending Azar whenever they see him at the plaza, which now boasts 22 shops, all of which are occupied.

The stores range from clothing, to therapeutic supplies, to jewellery, a Crocs outlet, men’s grooming lounge, Glam Beauty Salon, Just Ship It courier and logistics service, and the most enduring of the lot, the former Susie’s Café now rebranded Susie’s which, due to the tenacity of owner/operator Susan Hanna, remained open during the difficult construction period.

“It was a little bit of a challenge during COVID, but I believe the saying ‘Build it and they will come’. We built it and people came and said this is beautiful,” Azar shared.

“I try and not be a heartless landlord so, whereas we went through the COVID time we try and be easy on the rent, try and give concessions, rent-free some months because I don’t want the clients to sell just to pay rent. I want them to sell, make money, pay the rent, be happy and still have something for them to say, ‘This is my profit’,” he told the Observer.

“Me, in my capacity in other businesses, as a tenant I know how heartless landlords can be, so I don’t want to be like that. I want to be someone who, when the tenants see me coming, they can say, ‘This is my landlord, I can reason with him, I can talk, have a mutually beneficial relationship’,” said Azar whose LP Azar store on Marescaux Road in St Andrew is popular for its wide range of fabrics, furniture, lighting fixtures and home décor products.

He used the interview to extend best wishes for the holiday season to his tenant, saying, “I want to wish them the best and want them to know that with LP Azar as a landlord you have somebody that is reasonable. We’re gonna work with you, it’s a partnership. We want you to make money and pay your rent and we want to make a return on our investment. We’re not heartless landlords and that’s how we would urge others in developments to go forwards. It has worked well for us.”

As part of the plaza’s soft opening Pastor Dwight Fletcher, founder of Transformed Life Church, offered prayers, after which guests were entertained by singers Sharee Elise and Juliet Hamilton, as well as violinist Torrie Hamilton.

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