Young developer goes back to basics with vision to make Oakland Mall a destination
Mario Kiezi weaves his way into Detroit’s Metro Mall property in a way not usually seen.
The 31-year-old son of second-generation Iraqi immigrants strolls through the Oakland Mall in Troy, his new trophy. He greets customers, says hello to a security guard and says “19 days”, in reference to the time she worked there. A young man, possibly in his late teens or early twenties, approaches Kiezi, asking for “content” advice, his phone switched off.
It’s probably because Kiezi may actually be the Detroit area’s premier commercial real estate social media star – let’s be honest, as far as anyone in Detroit commercial real estate can being a social media star – racking up more than 40,000 TikTok followers as he sometimes posts several times a day on the short-form video site popular with Gen Z and millennials.
TikTok, he says, is his way of “educating young people, educating everyone” about what’s happening at Oakland Mall, though he says the jury is out on whether his boosted online presence will paying.
“I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing,” he says almost casually, before launching into a discussion of the technical aspects of his real estate investment strategy.
It’s clear to Louis Ciotti, a broker who has worked with Kiezi on various transactions, that social media is Kiezi’s way of “reaching the masses about usages and users, giving the community what they want and what she can see”. He is able to interact.”
“It’s a grinder, a street boot grinder,” said Ciotti, who is managing director of Farmington Hills-based retail brokerage firm Landmark Commercial Real Estate Services.
It’s there, both on the street and in the virtual world, Kiezi hopes for the future of Oakland Mall – busy with its online retailers and profitable, generating more than $10 million in revenue a year, but always a mall – will be forged, at least in part: from the suggestions and feedback of tens of thousands of people who follow his channel and take action on everything from desired tenants to a beloved polar bear play structure that is not more there.
On TikTok, he shows viewers Antoine’s Ice Cream, his late father’s 774-square-foot ice cream shop in the mall more than two decades ago, replaced these days by electronic toys for children. In another video, he speaks with Gordon, whom Kiezi dubs the “Mall Walkers President.” He shows more than a dozen Monopoly games, which he says he has collected for several years.
But, as in the real estate-themed game, his bet is a risk.
To say the least, its grand vision is ambitious and free-flowing, a hodgepodge of potential occupiers and buzzwords – creative space, pop-up retailers, a “TikTok Village”, an area designed for selfies and food halls, all finding homes in the mall, which may get a hip new name like (@)Oakland or (the)Oakland.
“We’re going to change the DNA of this place,” Kiezi said, likening his vision to Chelsea Market in New York’s Meatpacking District.