- By Matt Sanctis Staff Writer
The Clark County Land Re-utilization Corp. will spend $250,000 to buy and maintain the former Macy’s store at the Upper Valley Mall.
Macy’s closed the store in late 2015, and the agreement will allow the land bank to take over the vacant property and find a new buyer for the site, Clark County Commissioner Rick Lohnes said.
The deal would provide a major boost for the mall, he said, which has lost anchors like Macy’s, J.C. Penny, the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, as well as smaller stores like BonWorth, American Eagle Outfitters and Cardboard Heroes.
In an separate, unrelated deal, company officials from Bargain Hunt, a discount retail chain based in LaVergne, Tenn., confirmed they plan to open a location in Springfield in German Twp. in late February. No further details were immediately available about that deal.
Macy’s representatives declined to comment Wednesday. But mall officials said the move sends a signal that the community is committed to the site. Local leaders also have hired Buxton Co., a Texas-based consulting firm to identify and attract retailers that would be a good fit for Clark County.
“It’s a proactive strategy on behalf of the land bank to support coordinating steps in moving forward,” said Brenda LaBonte, the mall’s general manager. “It should make it a little less complicated for all involved including the efforts that are being made by Buxton Company to help attract tenants.”
Staff from Buxton didn’t return a call seeking comment Wednesday.
The Macy’s property includes the roughly 80,000-square-foot former department store and attached warehouse, and about 14 acres of mostly parking lot valued at about $1.54 million, according to the Clark County Auditor’s Office.
The land bank is a nonprofit organization set up by Clark County that can take foreclosed properties and either demolish structures or rehabilitate them to make them reusable. Tom Hale, executive director for the Clark County Land Re-utilization Corp., couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.
Clark County will back the loan allowing the land bank to purchase the property, and will be repaid once a buyer is found, Lohnes said. Both the Macy’s and the Sears properties at the mall are owned by those respective stores. Macy’s was only willing to sell the property to the land bank, he said.
The agreement will provide a boost to a part of the county that has seen several retailers either close or relocate to nearby Bechtle Avenue, Lohnes said.
“There’s a lot more energy going on there,” he said of the area near the mall. “Good things are going to happen, we just can’t put our thumb on them just yet.”
About $200,000 will be used to purchase the property, while the remaining $50,000 will be used to maintain the site until a buyer is found.
It’s also possible the Community Improvement Corp. of Clark County or other agencies could get involved to help market the property, Lohnes said. Once it’s sold, the county’s investment will be repaid and any profit will go back to the land bank to provide funding for future projects, he said.
The goal is to sell the property at some point next year, Lohnes said. The agreement will provide Buxton with locations to market to potential retailers.
The decision will benefit the county in the long run, said George Degenhart, planning and zoning director in German Twp.
“Retail is changing,” Degenhart said. “We’re in the middle of that and we’ve seen that. We’re starting to find out the right mix for our community.”
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He also said Bargain Hunt would add another option for area residents once that store opens next year near Rural King on Upper Valley Pike. The chain, based in Tennessee, operates 60 locations across Kentucky, Georgia, Alabama, Indiana and Ohio, among other state.
The company’s website says the chain is expanding quickly. Bargain Hunt opened 20 new stores this year and has plans to add an additional 30 stores in 2017. The site says the store sells televisions, toys, sporting goods, outdoor gear, clothing and other items well below normal retail pricing. No further details were available Wednesday.
In January last year, both Macy’s and J.C. Penney announced plans to close their locations in the Upper Valley Mall just one day apart. The back-to-back announcements were a major blow to the mall, which has served area residents for more than four decades. The Springfield store was among 14 nationwide that Macy’s closed at the time, affecting about 80 employees locally.
Malls in communities across the U.S. have faced similar challenges as shopping habits change and more residents shop online.