A chaotic year for the Upper Valley Mall took another turn Wednesday after an online auction ended with a $2.65 million bid for the nearly 500,000-square-foot property.
Several questions remained Wednesday evening after the auction’s close, including the potential buyer. Several local officials said they were unaware of any local interest in the site, and the firm in charge of the sale didn’t return calls for comment.
It will be difficult to know more about the potential buyer until a deal is finalized, local leaders said.
The online sale at auction.com is the latest step for the decades-old mall, including falling into receivership and back-to-back announcements in January that both Macy’s and JC Penny would close. The minimum bid when the auction opened was listed at $1.5 million.
“This property is in escrow,” a message on the website said Wednesday afternoon. “Once escrow has been closed, the auction details will be made available upon request.”
The property still has value despite the recent challenges, said George Degenhart, planning and zoning director for German Twp.
“It’s all speculation,” Degenhart said. “We’ve seen other prime properties that are a whole lot smaller sell for a whole lot more. There is still a large chunk of what I consider prime ground.”
Finding the right use for the property is critical, said Horton Hobbs, vice president of the Chamber of Greater Springfield, but it’s not clear how long that might take. He hopes the owner will be willing to work with the community.
“It’s important to come up with a strategy for it over time because if investment declines there, the property is going to start to decline as well,” Hobbs said. “Certainly the sooner you can get something done with the property, the more value it has to potential investors.”
The chamber hired Equity, a Hilliard-based commercial real estate firm, to study potential uses for the Upper Valley Mall earlier this year. The report argues the site may still include a retail component, but recommended coming up with a strategy for a new use. Local officials have discussed several options, Hobbs said, including mixed development and sports recreation.
“This is an opportunity as a community to discuss where our priorities lie in terms of retail and recreation,” he said. “The mall as a whole needs to be part of that conversation and that needs to continue now.”
The Turner Foundation had no interest in purchasing the site because it didn’t fit the foundation’s mission to improve downtown Springfield, said Daren Cotter, chief financial officer for the organization. However he said the mall property is important to the region’s future.
“That whole corridor is important for our community and I think it’s going to take a strong vision and a plan for what that corridor could be in the future,” Cotter said. “If it’s going to be retail, it will have to be something that will really differentiate itself from the Bechtle Avenue corridor.”
The auction site lists the mall as about 72-percent occupied, with about 492,000 square feet of available space. Macy’s and Sears own their sites and those stores weren’t included in the sale. Former owner Simon Management Associates defaulted on a $47 million loan last year.
Clark County has seen other retail losses this year as well. Earlier this month, Target said it will close its West 1st Street store in January.
Degenhart said he’s still confident local business and government leaders will find a creative way to help the corridor recover.
“We’re the poster child for the country in terms of the closing of stores,” Degenhart said. “We happen to be getting there first so if there’s a silver lining, it may be we’re the first to figure out what the future is. We’re a good community. We’ve led the country in a lot of things over the years. Maybe we just don’t know about it right now but we might be doing it again.”
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