Rebirth: New Wahlburgers, 3 other big changes coming to Genesee Valley Center

Published: Jul. 19, 2018 at 11:41 PM EDT
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(07/19/2018) - While brick and mortar retail is enduring a tough transition, the Genesee Valley Center mall is in the midst of a partial rebirth.

The mall's owner announced four major additions Thursday, the most visible of which is a new Wahlburgers restaurant coming to the Outdoor Village in space previously occupied by Talbots.

Besides that, Forever 21 is expanding its footprint in the mall to a 20,000-square-foot space near Macy's. A new tenant for the now-vacant Burlington store will be announced in August while an undisclosed national jewelry store will be coming to Center Court soon.

But Thursday's big announcement was mostly about the Wahlburgers restaurant owned by actor and singer Mark Wahlberg.

It will be located near local basketball star Morris Peterson's Mo Pete's Sports Retreat, a sports bar that opened this spring.

"Flint is a hidden gem, you know. It's a place that's coming back on the rise," Peterson said. "It's going to be great having (Wahlberg) here."

Wahlberg appeared at the special unveiling Thursday via a video call. In his announcement, he made it very clear that the Flint area is where he wants to be.

"I want to be in Flint. I want to be in communities where people work really hard. They got love for their community, family," Wahlberg said.

For the dozens of people on hand for the announcement, they can't wait to dig into what Wahlburgers serves.

"I'm excited, cannot wait to see him," said Flint Township resident Tonya Gibbs.

They also were appreciative of the investment and new jobs Wahlberg is creating.

"Now in Flint, it's really nice knowing that he's trying to make jobs in the community and helping out," said Joe Morgan of Linden.

The new restaurant will create 60 to 70 jobs, according to Gabriel Schuchman, one of the partners in the restaurant who drove in from Bloomfield Hills.

There was no word on when the restaurant will open or when hiring will begin.

"Flint's been top of mind for him since 2014," he said. "Every other conversation we have with Mark is when are we coming to Flint, so we hooked up with Carmen and his team and we couldn't wait to open up here."

Carmen Spinoso, the chairman and CEO of Spinoso Real Estate Group, which owns the Genesee Valley Center, said getting Wahlberg on board was not a hard sell.

"That original contact we made with him was met with a lot of response," Spinoso said. "We showed him the project and we made the deal."

Spinoso admitted taking over the Flint Township mall property shortly before the Flint water crisis has been an uphill battle. But he's excited about future prospects.

He couldn't disclose the new tenant for the vacant storefront that used to be home to Burlington. The store left the mall a few months ago for a new site on Miller Road.

"We have a lot of respect for Burlington," Spinoso said. "We actually have a replacement tenant for them we have not announced ."

That new tenant will be announced in August.

The space owned by Sears will also soon be vacant, as that store was included in a list of locations slated to close by the end of this year. Sears owns its store at the mall and future plans for the space remain a mystery.

However, Spinoso remains optimistic about the prospect of filling the space.

"There is a lot of opportunity there, and when a space becomes available, there are plenty of people who say, 'Hey, we want to be a part of this,'" he said.

They include Wahlberg, who expressed a great deal of excitement for his new Flint Township location.

"This is a big deal for us. We want to be a part of the community, I want to bring my family experience to yours. This is a big, big deal for us," he said.