Upper Valley Mall owner surprised by $44M sports proposal for site

The Upper Valley Mall’s owner said Monday he was surprised by an announcement that local leaders have proposed developing a $44 million sports complex and that one of the potential sites for it is on property where the mall now stands.

Rao Chekka, managing partner of New Valley Associates, said there's no plan to sell the mall property or operate as anything other than a shopping center. The announcement last week by Chamber of Greater Springfield and the Convention and Visitors Bureau that the mall is being considered as a possible location for a youth sports complex alarmed existing businesses, Chekka said, and might make efforts to revitalize the decades-old shopping center more difficult.

He said he was unaware of the proposal until seeing it in the Springfield News-Sun. The Springfield News-Sun contacted Brenda LaBonte, the mall’s general manager, before the story and she declined to comment.

“This particular news announcement is not helping,” Chekka said. “Actually it’s downright hurting us.”

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Other locations are possible for the sports complex, although chamber officials said last week the current mall property would be an ideal site that could revitalize the entire U.S. 68 corridor. The proposal is still in its earliest stages, so it would likely take years before construction could begin if the project secures funding and moves forward.

Chamber officials said Monday the mall’s local management was aware that the property would be mentioned as a possible location for the proposed sports complex.

“They certainly should have been aware of that,” said Mike McDorman, chamber president and CEO. “Their management group was well aware of it and had no problem with it. They indicated to us they’ve lost their ability to attract national leases with the loss of the anchors and this could be something to look at down the road.”

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Some Upper Valley Mall business owners said the announcement has created uncertainty for them and their customers.

“There are 15-plus local businesses in this space,” said Brian Anderson, owner of Pixel Playground.”Each one of us depends on the community and if the community doesn’t think the space we’re in exists or is leaving, there’s going to be an impact on them.”

Pixel Playground allows customers to play both new and old video games, and Anderson said the mall is a good location to start a new business. But he said he also needs to know the site will be viable for his store for the long-term.

“If I knew tomorrow or in a year that they were planning on selling the mall, I’d have no interest in being in said space,” Anderson said.

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LaBonte said the fact that the Upper Valley Mall would be mentioned in the study came up only in a brief conversation and the mall’s ownership plans to continue its efforts to attract new tenants.

There’s been investment in the Upper Valley Mall, Chekka said, including upgrades to the parking lot and plans to improve the roof. CVS Pharmacy is also in the early stages of a plan to construct a standalone building near the front parking lot.

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Management will continue to work with current tenants to stay open as a mall for the foreseeable future, Chekka said.

“It is viable at this point,” he said.

Staying with the story

The Springfield News-Sun has provided award-winning coverage of business in Clark and Champaign counties, including efforts to attract more business to the Upper Valley Mall. The Springfield News-Sun first broke the news of a proposed $44 million youth sports complex last week.

By the numbers:

$44 million — Cost of proposed sports complex

$93M — Anticipated economic impact of proposed sports complex

1971 — Year the Upper Valley Mall opened

$2.65M — recent purchase price for the Upper Valley Mall

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