Martinsburg Mall has prospect interested in the former Sears location

November 05, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |
  • Construction is underway inside one of the businesses that will be part of the transition at Martinsburg Mall.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Martinsburg Mall is in negotiations with a prospect interested in the former Sears location, and Robert Gardner, the mall's general manager, said the possibility of signing a deal to fill the anchor space appears promising.

Deals to replace Sears and develop an outparcel of the 79-acre property at 800 Foxcroft Ave. for a fine-dining establishment could be announced in the near future, Gardner said.

"I would love to mention the name of (the restaurant)," Gardner said. "It will be a fine-dining establishment, something the Martinsburg market doesn't have."

Mall officials have fielded significant interest in the anchor space that Sears vacated this summer, but Gardner said they have been "looking for what would work best (in the long term) for the mall" and turned aside a potential prospect.

While Gardner said the mall also is looking to ink a deal for a restaurant at a second outparcel, new tenants already have been lined up for the former Foot Locker and Waldenbooks stores inside the mall, which opened in October 1991.

Other projects under way include the construction of new "family-friendly" restrooms next to the food court, which Gardner hopes will open in December.

Also under construction is a new learning center for Mountain State University, which purchased the mall in April 2010, Gardner said.

While the college's presence is prominent in the vicinity of Bon-Ton, Gardner said the mall will continue to focus primarily on retail development.

A master plan for the property is expected to be unveiled next year, according to Gardner, who was hired to manage the property in 2008.

"I've managed it through some difficult times and we're still open and we plan to remain open," Gardner said.

In the first year that MSU owned the mall, Gardner said many relatively routine matters in managing the 550,000-square-foot property had to be addressed, but efforts now are focused on maximizing the mall's potential.

The college purchased the retail center for $11 million when it was in receivership of Jones Lang LaSalle Inc., which assumed control after the previous owner defaulted on debt payments in the fall of 2008, according to court records. The property is deeded to Mountain State University Building Co., which is a subsidiary of the private college based in Beckley, W.Va.

Since then, the property's financial health has "definitely (improved) for the better," Gardner said.

Gardner acknowledged MSU's ownership has come with "a lot more intensity" to develop the property's full potential.

Without looking at exact figures, Gardner estimated more than 10,000 square feet of available retail space in the mall has never been "built out" and occupied since the property opened 20 years ago.

The retail industry, meanwhile, has been redefining itself and Gardner said it is more complex than ever before.

The trend now is the development of lifestyle centers where people can "work, shop, play and live" and few malls are being built strictly for retail use, Gardner said.

In regard to Martinsburg Mall, Gardner said they are looking at how long-term plans to transform the property will affect the community for the next 10 to 20 years.

Amid the financial turmoil, Gardner said he has heard no small number of rumors about the mall's future, but believes the property's future is bright and dispels any whispers otherwise.

However, he also readily acknowledges it will take time for the property to realize its potential.

"It's not like turning on a light switch and turning it off," Gardner said.

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