by James Coulter
Last year, Eagle Ridge Mall transformed from a dying ghost town to a lively shopping area with nearly a dozen stores opening and the re-opening of its bowling alley and entertainment center.
With 95 units available for lease, 56 stores have since taken residence, as previously reported on the Daily Ridge. Some of these new businesses include a toy store, comics and collectibles shop, a juice bar, a tattoo parlor, and a young girl’s store.
The mall’s transformation was due in part to the hard work and dedication of former mall manager, Charles Caraway. He has since stepped down from his position and handed the reigns of the mall over to its new manager, Curtis Gibson.
Gibson first moved to Lake Wales at age 13. Upon graduating from Lake Wales High School in 2003, he went on to obtain his bachelor’s degree from Keiser University, his associates from Bryant and Stratton College, and complete police academy at South Florida State College.
Gibson previously served the Lake Wales community as a city commissioner in 2017 and was re-elected in 2019. He currently works as an insurance adjuster with Geico. He and his wife, Danielle, have five children. Curtis is a charter member of Rotary on the Ridge and has been active in other community groups and coaching youth sports.
Now that he has assumed the role of the new manager at Eagle Ridge Mall, Gibson has big plans moving forward to continue the momentum created by the last manager. We recently sat down with Gibson to discuss those plans in an interview. Here is what he had to say:
Q: What made you decide to take up the role of manager for Eagle Ridge Mall?
A: I have always been a supporter of the mall and know how important it is to our city. The mall is the heart of the city, the largest structure in the area, that provides opportunities for entrepreneurs to live their dreams, and by providing jobs to people in our communities. We (the community) have to support the mall to support our local businesses within the mall. I am willing and able to see this journey through.
Q: What makes you qualified for your new role?
A: I have a degree in business administration, experience in property management, and a background in retail, but what qualifies me most for this job is my willingness to work hard to promote Eagle Ridge Mall. I have built a strong network of people who will support our efforts. The best is yet to come!
Q: What potential do you see with Eagle Ridge Mall? What are your overall expectations?
A: Our city is going to see rapid growth in the next few years. In fact, the city of Lake Wales stated that over 10,000 homes will be built in the next 10 years, which will triple our population. That will increase the customer base and networking capabilities working in collaboration with the City Of Lake Wales and the Economic Development Council (EDC). We have more than 60 stores open, and they are vital to the economy, more people are wanting to open, and the owners are committed to occupying all the units. We will focus on facility and ground improvements, adding new tenants, having all stores open during mall hours, and bringing people to the mall with special events and promotions. The owners (and I agree that we want a 1st class mall, this will not happen overnight) will take a community partnership to make sure we support the businesses in the mall.
Q: What are some challenges you foresee with your new position, and how do you plan on overcoming them?
A: There’s two challenges that I see; 1. Finding qualified workers, we have seen some turnover within the last 2 years. My goal is to build a great team to serve the purpose of the mall to ensure that the presentation is meeting company standards, which will ultimately keep the customers happy and coming back to shop at Eagle Ridge Mall. 2. In 2020, there was a pandemic that hit our country, and impacted people’s health. With that happening it impacted the businesses within the mall. The owners were very understanding, and did what they could to help tenants out. Now, more people are getting out of the house and we are seeing activity again in the mall. We have high hopes that it will only get better.