The Macon Mall’s new owners mean business about returning to its retail roots.
Hull Storey Gibson Cos. announced after it bought the 1.4 million-square foot mall Sept. 17 that it plans to demolish its east wing. Last week, the company sent letters to some east wing tenants, giving them until Friday to “vacate the premises.”
Follow-up letters, in which the company offers to work with the relocation of those tenants, were sent out Monday.
Hull Gibson Storey president John Gibson admitted Monday that the first letter “could have been more artfully drawn.”
“That’s a legal notice,” he said, “We’re going to work with them. Nobody has to be out then. But at the same time, what we’re trying to communicate to them very clearly is that that building is going to be demolished and they do need to make arrangements and need to start thinking about where they’re going to relocate.”
The east wing opened in 1997 as a $50 million, 423,000-square-foot expansion that brought in 40 new stores, including Dillard’s and Parisian department stores. Parisian closed in 2007. Dillard’s followed in 2008.
The wing has struggled with occupancy since the closings, and the mall last year began offering space to artists at discounted rates.
“These particular bays that are operated on weekends or irregular hours, they’re not meeting our obligations to the remaining retail tenants to provide the kind of co-tenancy that they want,” said Gibson.
Monday, a handful of shoppers mingled around the few stores open on the wing. All of the art space areas, including a theater, dance studio, art galleries, airbrush paint shop and more, were closed.
The Destiny Driven Deliverance Church International, which occupies a large space with a pillared-facade, also sat empty.
Customers, however, waited in line for haircuts at NuXpression hair salon, located near the JCPenney entrance in the east wing. The salon received the letter to vacate but has since worked out an agreement to relocate to the west side, said owner Veronica Simmons.
“It kind of came short notice, five days to get out,” Simmons said of the letter. “I’ve got people working here.”
The salon has been at the mall for two years. Simmons said she believes the consolidation of businesses to the west wing will be for the good in the long run.
“I think it will be once they work the kinks out,” she said.
Gibson said the company will begin tearing down the Dillard’s and Parisian buildings “within a couple of weeks.” The rest of the shop space in the east wing will be demolished beginning in early January.
Once the wing is demolished and retail tenants are relocated, the mall’s occupancy, excluding anchor store square footage, will increase from about 50 percent to more than 80 percent, Gibson said.
“If I’m in the business of selling merchandise, I want people who are coming into the property to buy things, who are prepared to spend money,” Gibson said. “We’re going to move every retailer, who can operate 70 hours a week, that we can from the east wing into the west wing.”
The west wing has a little more than 300,000 square feet of shop space, excluding anchor stores JCPenney, Sears, Macy’s and Belk. The east wing has about 180,000 square feet of shop space, not including the vacant Dillard’s and Parisian buildings.
About 240,000 (50 percent) of that shop space is occupied, Gibson said.
“Once you demolish that east wing, you take all those tenants, that gives us about 80 percent occupancy,” he said. “In the current environment, it’s not great, but it’s good. That’s why we think the idea of demolition and consolidation is well conceived.”
Gibson said the company plans to “bend over backwards to be reasonable” with tenants who have been asked to leave. However, the company needs to vacate the wing by December to make “preliminary plans” for the demolition, he said.
“For the tenants who are in the east wing who are not traditional retail tenants, we would be misleading them to say we’ll be moving them. We do not want them to move to the west wing. We want to make this a full retail center. We can be successful with that.
“Their use, as wonderful as it is, and we’ve got a full appreciation for all that they’re doing ... they need to find another spot. But it’s not going to be at the mall.”
Gibson also said the number of kiosks at the mall will be reduced “pretty significantly.”
“We don’t like all those kiosks. We think that does not lend itself to a pleasant experience, and it’s very, very cluttered. And so we’re going to be working with the kiosks to either consolidate or move in line.
“There’s lots of change out there, and it will not be business as it has been in the past. It’s difficult and I have every empathy for the people who are seeing changes. I think the best way I can serve them is to tell them the truth.”
The mall opened in 1975. After the 1997 expansion, it was touted as the largest mall in Georgia.
Hull Storey Gibson, an Augusta-based real estate company, owns 18 malls, including malls in Dublin and Milledgeville. The Macon Mall is the company’s largest.
To contact writer Rodney Manley, call 744-4623.