Two Dayton-area malls with financially challenged owner intricately tied to communities’ economic growth

Two area malls remain important employers and economic drivers in the region in spite of financial issues their owners face, local leaders said.

Washington Prime Group, which owns the Dayton Mall in Miami Twp. and the Mall at Fairfield Commons in Beavercreek, this week released its earnings report for 2020, detailing $111.4 million in losses for the fourth quarter and $233.8 million for the year, leaving investors with an uncertainty if it could restructure in time to prevent Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Miami Twp. Community Development Director Chris Snyder said the 1.4 million-square-foot Dayton Mall is an important retail component of the township’s commercial district. While he declined to speculate regarding Washington Prime Group’s future financial condition and the effects it might have on the property, he said activity at the mall continues unabated.

“There’s people continuing to shop in the mall. They’ve attracted new tenants and new investment over the last few years,” he said. “The mall did successfully attract H&M. They recently did a major renovation for Morris Furniture, so we have seen quite a bit of investment in that property over the last few years.“

Snyder said Miami Twp. looks forward to continuing to work with the mall on redevelopment activities in and around the property.

The financial situation over the last year, not just for the Dayton Mall but for malls nationwide, “is not an apples to apples comparison” compared with the business generated in previous years, he said.

“Every retail center around the country has struggled, obviously, through the pandemic,” he said.

Miami Twp. has seen a number of retailers vacate space at Dayton Mall in the past several years, but generally those spaces have been refilled by other retail tenants and, in some cases, have changed into other uses, Snyder said.

Since 2019, the Dayton Mall added 27 new tenants, including Ross Dress for Less, Morris Home Furnishings and Aerie, which encompasses more than 150,500 square feet of new tenancy, according to mall officials.

In addition, mall officials said in 2020 they launched the Dayton Mall Non-Profit Co-Op in a 5,000 square foot space which houses donated non-perishable items and supplies for area non-profit organizations that have lost their brick and mortar locations. The mall currently serves approximately 14 local area charitable organizations through efforts in collecting items of need and storing the items to be distributed among the local organizations.

“That level of investment speaks well to our position geographically in the region and the importance of this area as a commercial district,” he said. “Our area has shown a healthy vibrancy in terms of its commercial activity. Obviously though we have a lot of national tenants in this area and national tenants by their nature face other pressures that are outside of whether or not I see people going in and out of a store here locally.”

The 1.1 million square feet of retail space at the Mall at Fairfield Commons is “a large driver of economic development” in the northern section of Beavercreek and is linked to numerous jobs in and around the mall, according to Randy Burkett, the city’s planning and development director.

The Beavercreek mall has added 30 stores and restaurants to the center since 2019, including Black Rock, Round1, Morris Home and Rose & Remington, mall officials said. Combined, this resulted in over 324,000 square feet of new tenancy.

The mall also has an influence on where companies choose to establish an office based on what dining and retail options might be available to staffers, Burkett said.

“If Washington Prime has financial challenges, that’s obviously concerning to the city, but the city in general has a lot of positive economic qualities,” Burkett said. “We want to see everyone do well. We want to help Washington Prime do well as much as we can, but I don’t have huge concerns with an extreme amount of vacancies in the future or anything like that.”

Beavercreek officials are constantly receiving requests from the mall inquiring about what incoming companies can or cannot do in terms of zoning regulations.

“That tells me there are people interested in being at the mall,” Burkett said.

When Sears and Elder-Beerman closed at the Mall at Fairfield Commons, “having those retail spaces empty would be concerning to anybody,” he said.

But Round1 Entertainment and Morris Furniture moved into the former Sears space and two churches now occupy the space most recently vacated by Elder Beerman, Burkett said.

“There isn’t a huge vacant space that could be distressing to anybody looking into moving into the mall,” he said. “Within the last 10 years, investment in the mall, multimillion-dollar investments in the restaurants, in the new entryway, tells us that there’s still plenty of economic viability left in the mall and we anticipate that for many, many years to come.”

Shopping malls in Ohio, much like their counterparts nationwide, are split into two areas with no middle ground, according Loren DeFilippo, director of research for the Ohio division of global commercial real estate services company Colliers International.

“They’re either doing pretty well like some of the Class A location, like Kenwood Towne Centre, for example, in Cincinnati, or they are pretty much deserted and probably many of them primed up for conversion to some other use like Amazon did in Cleveland with a few of the malls they tore down up there and built distribution centers,” DeFilippo said.

Backfilling a mall’s anchor has become “nearly impossible” especially with some big-name retailers looking at smaller, off-mall concepts and digital sales as being their future, he said.

BY THE NUMBERS: Washington Prime

$111.4 million: Loss in the 2020 fourth quarter

$17.1 million: Profit during the same three months of 2019.

$233.8 million: Loss in 2020

$11 million: Loss in 2019

100: amount of shopping centers owned by Washington Prime Group, most of them in the Midwest, on the East Coast, and in Florida and Texas

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