The Clark County Land Reutilization Corp. has purchased 40 acres at the Upper Valley Mall for slightly more than $3 million, an early step in a plan to breathe fresh life into the property, according to county officials.
County officials said they were unable to provide several details about the future of the site but said the land bank is working with a private developer and could transfer the property within 60 to 90 days once a tentative agreement is reached.
The mall has been the center of retail in Clark County for much of its history after it first opened in 1971. But the site has faced a challenging retail landscape and watched as longtime anchors like J.C. Penney and Macy’s have closed their doors in recent years. Other longtime tenants like MC Sports and the Upper Valley Mall Cinema 5 location have also closed in recent years.
The German Twp. property has seen other national retailers close stores at the mall and move to nearby Bechtle Avenue.
Clark County Commissioner Melanie Flax Wilt declined to discuss details of the mall’s future until a deal is finalized with the new developer. But she said the site is still key to the region’s plans for the future.
“The Upper Valley Mall is a prime property for economic development,” Flax Wilt said. “It’s been one of our county’s largest retail hubs for four decades and we hope we can kick-start a new vision for the area.”
The Clark County Land Reutilization Corp. already owned property previously owned by Macy’s after purchasing that site in 2017 for about $200,000. The deal announced Wednesday morning means the land bank now owns about 60 acres of property at the mall. Land owned by Sears, the lone remaining anchor at the site, is not included in the transaction.
The Clark County commissioners voted last month to guarantee a $3.5 million loan to allow the land bank to purchase the property.
Flax Wilt said all mall staff are being retained as part of the agreement. All the businesses currently in the mall will continue to pay rent.
“We can say that the developer is organized and this will be a solid improvement that will reinvent that area,” Wilt said.
Brenda LaBonte, the mall’s general manager, also declined to provide many details about the mall’s future. But she said she is optimistic about the area’s future.
“This is a good strategic move for the mall’s future, and I feel there is a sincere interest in seeing the mall thrive again,” LaBonte said. “That could be a positive effect in the surrounding retail in this area as well.”
MORE BUSINESS NEWS: Upper Valley Mall at critical crossroads
Local economic development officials have proposed other possible uses for the property in the past. Last year a study released by the Chamber of Greater Springfield proposed building a $44 million youth sports complex at the site currently occupied by the Upper Valley Mall. When asked whether Wednesday’s announcement would impact that proposal, Wilt said no options are off the table at this point.
In the meantime though, she said shoppers and customers will notice no changes in the mall in the near future.
Some business owners at the mall also said they have heard few details about what the purchase means for them. David Pitstick, co-owner and store manager at Epic Loot Games and Comics, said his business received a letter that noted the change in ownership but provided few other details. The store has been at the mall since late 2015, and business has improved in recent years, he said.
The store also operates a location in Centerville, and Pitstick said the mall approached them and made an offer to expand to Springfield. They were hesitant at first but decided to open the Springfield location after looking at the area’s demographics, he said. Pitstick said he doesn’t yet know what Wednesday’s announcement means for his business.
“We’re just going to continue as normal and if they give us a notice to leave, we’ll leave,” he said. “Other than that we don’t have any plans to move.”
The mall was valued at around $20 million several years ago but slipped into receivership after former owner Simon Management Associates defaulted on a $47 million loan. New Upper Valley Associates LLC purchased the property at 1475 Upper Valley Pike for $2.65 million in December 2015, according to property transfer records. Since then, the mall has typically tried to attract small, local businesses to fill vacancies left by national brands that either closed their locations or moved to Bechtle Avenue.
“The Upper Valley mall has been very important,” Flax Wilt said of the mall’s history in German Twp. “I can remember going there every single weekend to shop and spend time with my mom and my sister. We need to continue to pull those things back into Clark County so that we have opportunities for families to spend time together but also to stabilize our sales tax base because that’s where Clark County’s government revenue comes from.”
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