Macon Mall’s new owner, Augusta-based Hull Storey Gibson Cos., believes that to build the mall up, it must first tear at least some of it down.
The company, which announced Tuesday that it had purchased the 1.4 million-square-foot mall for an undisclosed amount, said plans include “significant investment” at the retail center. However, one of the first orders of business will be demolishing the east wing, which was built in the late 1990s, President and CEO John Gibson said.
“That mall is probably overbuilt,” Gibson said.
The wing was part of a $50 million, 423,000-square-foot expansion in 1997 that brought in 40 new stores, including Dillard’s and Parisian department stores. Both those stores closed in an exodus of retailers as the mall struggled with a sluggish economy and debt accrued by the mall’s former owners.
“What we believe in the retail industry is there are two dynamics at work: contraction and consolidation,” Gibson said at a news conference Tuesday at Macon City Hall. “There are probably too many retail spaces. It’s probably going to contract.
“We think, that with retailers, nobody likes to be over there alone. And if it’s good for our retailers, it will be good for our customers, good for our patrons, good for our communities, and it will be good for us.”
Once the wing is demolished, the area will likely be used as green space for outdoor promotions and possibly redeveloped later, Gibson said.
Hull Storey Gibson owns shopping centers and 18 enclosed regional malls in Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee and Texas. The company also owns the mall in Dublin.
Macon Mall is the by far the company’s largest venture. Its other malls range in size from 350,000 to 750,000 square feet, and all of them are single-story structures.
“We’ve been very, very interested in acquiring a two-level mall,” Gibson said.
Company officials declined to release the purchase price of the mall. They also were hesitant to estimate the cost of the company’s investment at the property, except that it was “millions” of dollars.
“We’re proud to be in Macon. We want the residents of 22 counties to be proud of their mall, as well,” said Gibson. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Managing partner Jim Hull said the company’s “commitment here in Macon and for the Macon Mall is to make that mall competitive.”
Built in mid-1970s, Macon Mall has struggled in recent years. After the renovation, the mall had six anchor tenants: Belk, Sears, Dillard’s, JC Penney, Macy’s and Parisian.
In 2006, the Parisian store chain was bought by Belk Inc., and a year later the 104,000-square-foot Parisian store closed. In October 2008, Dillard’s department store announced it would close by the end of that year. A new Dillard’s opened at The Shoppes at River Crossing in north Bibb County.
In June 2005, New Jersey-based The Lighthouse Group bought Macon Mall LLC and Burlington Mall in North Carolina for $166 million. About that same time, the company used the two malls as collateral for a $141.2 million loan.
However, foreclosure proceedings began in 2008 because of nonpayment. An auction in November to sell the Macon Mall was postponed and the lender continued to own the property.
A Minnesota company was under contract to buy the mall in January, but that deal fell through. The company had said it planned to “mothball” the mall’s east wing.
The North Carolina mall, which had lost almost all its anchor stores, was sold in May for about $10 million.
Macon Mayor Robert Reichert said Hull Storey Gibson’s purchase of the mall is “going to be great for Macon, Bibb County and all of Middle Georgia.”
“Recently, the mall had lost some of its luster,” Reichert said. “Some naysayers had even contemplated its demise. ... I think I speak for all of us in saying we were concerned about the Macon Mall.”
The mayor said he is confident the mall’s new owners will “restore its luster and vitality.”
“We’re not talking about a coat of paint and a couple of throw pillows,” he said. “They’re going to transform it, and it’s going to be exciting to watch.”
Gibson said the company has some “decided views” on changes that need to be made. For instance, he said, there will likely be far fewer kiosks.
“There’s a very, very cluttered feel to it,” he said. “We’ll be demolishing a lot of the interior to create long, clean lines of sight.” The company also will address the perception that there is a crime problem at the mall. Gibson said the mall, which has two Macon police substations already, will likely increase police and security presence. It will also make some landscaping overhauls, such as removing big bushes, and what Gibson called “nightscaping” to help shoppers feel more secure.
“Perception is important,” Gibson said. “How do you combat perception? You do that in the way of removing the opportunity of anything taking place due to neglect, landscaping, lighting.”
Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce President Chip Cherry described the sale to Hull Storey Gibson as a “rebirth” that will restore the mall to its “rightful place as a keystone of retail” in the region. “It hasn’t had an owner with vision, with a passion for retail,” Cherry said.
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report.