A New York real estate investor confirmed Wednesday that he is in the process of buying the SouthShore Mall in Aberdeen.
Mike Kohan said his investment group was hoping to close the sale Wednesday, but declined to disclose the purchase price until the sale was final.
The SouthShore Mall, owned by General Growth Properties, has lost several tenants in recent years and has repair issues that even prompted former mall manager Nina Morean to advocate publicly for the owners to take action.
One of the lone bright spots has been the expansion of the SouthShore Cinemas, owned by Coming Attractions Theaters.
Kohan said he hopes to turn the mall around.
“Our plan is to bring more tenants into the mall and do whatever we can to help the existing tenants,” Kohan said in a phone interview. “I just want to let every merchant know if they had some difficulties previously for some reason getting into the mall, we’re willing to work with them.”
Kohan said he buys distressed malls all over the country, primarily in the Midwest, but the SouthShore Mall will be the farthest west he’s ever worked.
“I think that should be a good project for us,” he said.
Kohan added that part of the process of revitalizing the mall will include efforts to increase foot traffic, bring in new tenants and get tenants who may have left the mall to come back.
“My intention is to try and fill up the spaces,” Kohan said. The project will also likely include some renovation in the future, but Kohan said there were no specific plans yet.
The mall will be open as usual with no closures or interruptions planned, Kohan said. The lease agreements for current tenants won’t change.
“Nobody has to worry,” he said.
The Sears store connected to the mall is independently owned and not included in the mall’s purchase.
Aberdeen Mayor Bill Simpson, a retired JCPenney division manager who worked at the mall for 29 years, said he was “ecstatic” about the sale and the potential to revive the mall. He noted that when it opened, the mall had 81 businesses and is now down to just a handful.
“It’s sad because it is such a great facility. I’m hoping he can bring more businesses back to the mall again, and maybe another big box store like Target or Kohl’s,” Simpson said. “You bring people back to the mall first of all, and then jobs for the community, that’s what we’re looking for.”
Siobhan Doughty was working at Stullick Jewelry in the mall Wednesday and said she was happy to hear about the sale if it meant improvements for the building and new businesses. The sale, however, came as a surprise to many who work there, she said.
“It’s exciting, but no one was told that the mall was even put on the market, and then before we even knew it, it was sold,” said Doughty, who has worked at the mall for the past two years.
While she has never met Kohan, Doughty said she knows he has met with some merchants.
“I’m just hoping anything good will happen,” she said. “It’s been pretty much the same the last two years. We do all we can, and hopefully he will bring something new in. The mall needs renovation.”
She also noted there have been security problems and Stullick and the JCPenney store have been burglarized and vandalized in recent months. “Hopefully, this owner will care,” she said.
Kohan seemed to impress existing tenants when he visited earlier this month, and said any merchants with questions about how to become a tenant can call the mall office at 538-0760 and ask for Kenny until a new secretary is found.
Tracy Hoover, the store leader at JCPenney, said she met Kohan when he came into the store on a visit and came away with a positive first impression.
“He was a very friendly man. It seemed like he wanted to see how everybody was doing and what he could do to help,” she said. “From our perspective, we really do hope that he will be able to drive some more business in here.”
Hoover said Penney’s commitment to SouthShore is for “the long haul.”
“Really, it’s the traffic in here and bringing new life into the mall,” Hoover said when asked what needed the most improvement. “Fortunately, our customers have been extremely loyal and we very much appreciate that they still come to see us.”
Prior to the sale, the Grays Harbor Assessor’s Office listed two parcels owned by General Growth Properties at the mall address on South Boone Street, with a combined certified value of just over $6 million (last assessed in 2009). The 15.5-acre and 8.8-acre parcels include the JCPenney building and the rest of the mall except for Sears. The two one-story buildings were completed in 1981 and the quality is listed as “average” by the assessor.
Simpson said there are some structural improvements, such as floors that sink and sag, that will need to be made at the mall but the biggest need is to bring in more businesses.
“We have to bring more jobs back to the Harbor, and we can’t rely on fishing and lumber as much as we used to,” Simpson said.
He contends the previous ownership company, General Growth Properties, a Chicago-based real estate investment trust with interest in about 150 regional shopping malls, did not take the best care of the local mall.
“They just painted and cleaned up,” Simpson said. “And I don’t think they were as aggressive as they should have been as far as getting businesses.”
A quarterly report filed by General Growth Properties with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission showed that the mall has 139,541 square feet. Of that, 64,796 square feet is owned by Sears; 68,979 square feet had been owned by General Growth Properties before the recent sale. As of June 30, the quarterly report reported that 60.4 percent of the mall is leased.