It was an early Christmas present last week for Pine Bluff and Southeast Arkansas when it was announced a Houston, Texas, firm was acquiring The Pines mall. It was no secret the regional shopping center had struggled for years to keep tenants and attract customers.

It was an early Christmas present last week for Pine Bluff and Southeast Arkansas when it was announced a Houston, Texas, firm was acquiring The Pines mall. It was no secret the regional shopping center had struggled for years to keep tenants and attract customers.

Developer Andy Weiner said Wednesday his company, Weiner Development Corp., would take over The Pines on Thursday from General Growth Properties Inc., and emphasized customers will see some immediate changes at the mall beginning Saturday, including improvements in security.

Security plays an integral role in retail malls, with Weiner promising to place security officers in the mall’s theater complex starting Saturday, adding “we will expand that to Fridays if necessary.”

Mall developers are placing more emphasis on security. Violence has surfaced in the past week at major malls in Little Rock and North Little Rock, with a brawl breaking out Monday at Minnesota’s Mall of America, the nation’s largest.

The 700,000 square-foot mall opened here in the late 1980s. General Growth Properties filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2009.

Malls across the country have struggled to maintain their tenants during the currently economic woes and several major malls have closed and the buildings demolished, including structures in Little Rock, Memphis and Jonesboro.

Weiner Development has a three-year plan for the improving The Pines, the businessman said, and hopes to add 15 new stores in that period: three in the new year, five in 2013, and another seven in 2014.

The developer said the firm will be aggressive in recruiting local, regional and national tenants, in addition to promoting family-friendly events for children, and hosting beauty pageants, bringing in cartoon characters and providing a venue for birthday parties “where parents wouldn’t have to take their kids to Little Rock to have a party.”

Community involvement will also play a big role in Weiner’s plans for the mall, with nonprofits, church and school groups, and Boy and Girl Scout organizations being allowed to utilize the common areas of the mall without charge, Weiner said.

Weiner said he has met with Mayor Carl A. Redus Jr., some members of the Pine Bluff City Council, business leaders and bankers, adding they have voiced support for Weiner Development’s plans for the shopping center.

The company has purchased and developed a number of malls over the past 14 years, including the Vicksburg Mall in Vicksburg, Miss., in late 2010. In April, a number of new stores opened in that mall, according to the company.

Weiner said the Vicksburg Mall is in the second year of a three-year plan to turn the facility around, has been very successful so far. He said he believes The Pines will also meet with the same type of success. “First of all, this is a bigger market and the facilities here are in better shape,” the developer noted.

A number of national retailers are looking at the Pine Bluff mall, and several plan visits here next month, Weiner added.

“Our goal is to create a better shopping experience so consumers don’t have to travel to Little Rock to shop or be entertained,” Weiner said. “We’re asking people to take a risk and try the mall again.”

Other Pine Bluff retail businesses will benefit if The Pines posts the growth Weiner outlined in the company’s plans, with more customers coming here to shop. The municipality and Jefferson County could witness a growing tax base. And jobs

The best way to start a new year is with a large dose of optimism.