Final days: Upper Valley Mall closing after decades of business

Once bustling mall to close permanently on Wednesday, to be converted into a business park

The Upper Valley Mall was once a bustling shopping center packed with stores and customers, however it has been in a state of decline for a number of years.

Changes in shoppers’ habits over the years and the loss of major anchor stores that brought in customer traffic eventually lead to a decision announced in April to close the mall for good.

The mall will officially shutter its doors on Wednesday, June 16, and is slated to be sold to an Ohio-based developer interested in converting it into a potential business park.

Ethan Harris, the executive director of the Clark County Land Reutilization Corporation, otherwise known as the Land Bank, said that there is not a set time frame as to when the developer, Industrial Commercial Properties (ICP) would take ownership of the property.

ICP has entered into a contract with the Land Bank. An announcement regarding the planned purchase was made by Clark County officials Wednesday.

The property has been in the ownership of the Clark County Land Bank since 2018 and the Upper Valley Mall has been operated by that entity since.

The plan is for ICP to purchase the property for $2.25 million. The developer is expected to take ownership of the 76.8-acre property as well as the 811,000-square-foot Upper Valley Mall near Springfield.

The property is being sold as there has been a dip in revenue and a steady decline in tenants.

Harris said that financial projections showed that the Land Bank would struggle to break even by the end of February of this year due to a loss in leases.

He said that monthly expenses on the property can hover between $50,000 to $70,000, according to approximate estimates. As of February, the Land Bank was earning approximately $50,000 from the Upper Valley Mall.

That prompted original plans to close the mall in March. However, that decision was postponed as the Land Bank was in talks with ICP in terms of selling the property.

Harris said that ICP started to take a serious interest in the Upper Valley Mall property at the beginning of this year.

Harris said that the contract with ICP is a good option for the property as the Land Bank wanted to see the Upper Valley Mall repurposed as opposed to sitting vacant for a number of years.

“They have shown the ability to repurpose malls and put them back into a productive use as we have seen a decline in in-person retail over the past 10 years,” Harris said of ICP.

The mall first opened in 1971 and was a hub of retail in Clark County for decades. But in recent years longtime anchors such as JCPenney, Sears, Macy’s, along with numerous smaller chains have closed.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Dean Miller, the senior vice president, of ICP indicated in a news release this week that his company plans to convert the Upper Valley Mall into a business park.

Traditionally, a business park is a development that can consist of multiple buildings that can be used for a number of different purposes related to light industry, commercial and retail.

“Our company has extensive experience with retail conversions and we expect our model for repurposing these centers into business parks will be very successful at the Upper Valley Mall,” Miller said.

“The location, demographics and amenities in Springfield are well suited for our redevelopment plans,” he added.

However, it is unclear when redevelopment would start on the mall property or when it would operate as a business park.

A news release from Clark County indicated that ICP would likely take ownership of the Upper Valley Mall in the fall of this year. But, that is dependent on when ICP completes its due diligence testing needed to complete the purchase, the news release added.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Chris Salata, the CEO of ICP, said in a news release that his company has a track record of repurposing freestanding big box retail stores as well as converting former indoor malls and retail power centers into business parks.

“Following the highly successful redevelopment of Randall Park Mall in suburban Cleveland, we recently announced the acquisition and redevelopment of Chapel Hill Mall in Akron. A project like Upper Valley Mall is right up our alley,” Salata said.

The Land Bank had acquired Upper Valley in 2018 as the mall’s former owner would have likely gone into foreclosure. Clark County Commissioners backed a $3 million loan in 2018 to allow the Land Bank to make the purchase.

A tentative agreement with a private developer was also finalized around that time, according to previous reporting from this news organization.

But that deal fell through and over time it became apparent that the Land Bank could no longer afford to keep operating the mall in its current form.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

“We continued to lose tenants and could no longer afford to keep the mall operating in its current form. At the same time we saw that the industrial and commercial market was improving,” Harris said.

Macy’s was the mall’s first anchor store to pack up. The business closed its doors in 2015. JCPenney was next in line, officially closing in 2016. The closure was the end of the retailer’s more than decades-old presence in the county.

Sears announced in December 2018 it would close. The department store officially left Clark County for good the following March. Victoria’s Secret was the most recent big-name retailer to leave, announcing in early January 2020 that the store would close before the month’s end.

An official announcement was made in April that the mall would close and the remaining tenants were notified that they would have to be out of the property by June.

Harris said that the mall had approximately 15 tenants in April. He said that those businesses were given a 60 day notice to vacate the mall when it became apparent that Upper Valley would no longer operate in its current capacity.

Harris said, to his knowledge, tenants that wished to remain operating in the community have indicated that they have located new spaces to move into.

Harris did not release the names of those businesses.

Tenants that spoke to the News-Sun said that they expected that the mall would close eventually but were still surprised to hear the news.

“The signs were written on the wall. There had been a steady decline,” said Daryl Skinner, who opened the Springfield Chess Club at the mall in August.

“I had suspicions that it would happen. But I did not know how soon,” Skinner added about the mall closing.

He began leasing a 1,000 square-foot space at the mall in August before upgrading to a 2,600 square-foot space there in February.

Skinner said that he made the decision to lease space at the mall after walking through it and noticing the vacant spaces.

He said he was able to get a good rate and wanted to offer a local space for chess players as well as utilizing Springfield’s proximity to Dayton and Columbus.

Skinner operates a weekly chess tournament and said that his Wednesday games bring in between 10 to 13 players and his Saturday games can bring in up to 30 people. He added that he has players come in from neighboring states as well, including Indiana, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Kentucky.

“There are not a lot of chess clubs that are active for playing right now,” Skinner said, but he has noticed that more are starting to reopen as coronavirus pandemic restrictions have eased.

Moving forward, Skinner said he plans on holding tournaments either at local parks or renting out banquet spaces at local hotels. He said the goal is to continue to grow the chess club and eventually find a permanent space for it.

Jenny Hua said that the closing of the mall was something that she was expecting to happen for a few years. But she was still surprised when she heard the news.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Her parents Kim and Tule Hua had owned and operated the Mark Pi Express at the mall for 28 years.

“It was a really good business for my parents. I mean this is really all they have known since they moved here. They like being in a small community and getting to know everyone over the years,” Jenny Hua said of her parents, who immigrated to the country about 30 years ago.

Her parents chose Springfield to operate the restaurant due to it being a good location as well as being near family.

Jenny Hua said that she also has had other family members who have owned and operated Mark Pi locations.

She said that her parents have owned and operated the restaurant at the mall for most of her life and the business has been a fixture for her and her two sisters.

Her parents had decided that they would retire when the mall closes. She said her mother is ready to retire, but joked that her father is the type that would keep working if he could.

Jenny Hua said that her parents are going to miss the restaurant and especially their customers.

The restaurant is expected to shutter its doors on Monday.

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