‘Don’t count them out’: Columbia Place Mall changes coming

07/09/2014 9:38 PM

07/09/2014 9:39 PM

Columbia Place Mall could see some changes in the coming months as a new investment group takes a stake in the struggling retail center.

Moonbeam Capital Investments, based in Las Vegas, bought a loan Tuesday collateralized by the the 35-year-old mall, on Two Notch Road near Decker Boulevard, with an eye toward revitalizing the distressed structure, possibly with a new movie theater or other entertainment options.

“We are experts at reviving distressed properties and turning them into shopping-and-entertainment destinations,” Moonbeam chief executive Steven Maksin said. “We hope to see the same positive changes at the Columbia Place Mall.”

Chattanooga, Tenn.-based CBL & Associates Properties has owned the mall for more than a decade. However, that company has been letting the mall slip toward foreclosure for months, according to transcripts of its investor calls over the past year. CBL no longer claims the mall as one of its properties, according to its website and a woman answering the phone at the company.

If CBL does not pay the $27.3 million owed on the property, the mall will head to foreclosure in about 90 days, Moonbeam’s Maksin said.

Like many indoor malls nationwide, Columbia Place has struggled to retain a foothold after many retailers – including anchors such as Dillard’s and Steve & Barry’s — closed during the worst recession in decades in 2007-09. Columbia Place also lost other retailers, including JCPenney, as the population shifted farther Northeast toward the Village at Sandhill and surrounding areas.

“(But) don’t count them out,” said Marianne Bickle, chair of the retailing department at the University of South Carolina.

A renovation of the mall could work as long as it is well planned and targeted to a specific group, such as students at various nearby universities or seniors living in the adjacent Forest Acres and Arcadia Lakes neighborhoods.

“The most important thing is to have a well-defined mall,” Bickle said. “Make sure you know who you’re targeting it to and have a strong traffic flow pattern.”

Las Vegas-based Moonbeam will make a bid for the mall if it slips into foreclosure, Maksin said. If the company wins ownership, it will undertake an aggressive plan to turn around the struggling retail center.

The investment group could take a renovation approach similar to what it has done at other malls in similar circumstances, senior vice president Shawl Pryor said.

“What we do is, prior to acquiring a mall, we evaluate the market, the area, to see if it is a true opportunity for us to turn the mall around,” Pryor said. “In most cases, there is still a useful retail life in the mall.”

Columbia Place does have Macy’s and Sears as anchors, as well as local shops and smaller national chains.

Moonbeam takes different approaches with each property is acquires, including:

•  Repurposing a mall to bring in entertainment options, such as a bowling alley, laser tag or indoor golf. “We’ll create the destinations. People will come back to the mall not only for shopping but also for entertainment,” Pryor said.
•  Mixing retail with other purposes such as medical or educational uses.
•  Opening up parts of the mall to create a hybrid indoor-outdoor lifestyle center.

“We’ve found some of those concepts to be successful,” Pryor said.

As the economy has rebounded, malls have seen an uptick in activity – despite the increase in online shopping, USC’s Bickle said. Many are regaining some success because they are added mixed uses into the concept, such as offering a full-service spa, she said.

“This is a really wonderful opportunity to think outside the box and to really develop something that no other mall has,” Bickle said. “In other words, don’t go with your normal cookie-cutter retailer.”

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