Bass Pro move to further slow Forest Fair mall development

The immediate reaction of readers and observers to news Bass Pro Shops is building a Cincinnati-area store in West Chester Twp. was “that will do it for Cincinnati Mall.”

Outdoor retailer Bass Pro Shops has operated as an anchor store since 2000 at the former Cincinnati Mall visible from Interstate 275. The massive 1.5 million-square-foot enclosed mall, also known in the past as Cincinnati Mills, was renamed this year Forest Fair Village.

Springfield, Missouri-based Bass Pro announced Oct. 18 plans to build a new 150,000-square-foot store located near the intersection of Interstate 75 at Union Center Boulevard in the West Chester Twp. area. Officials confirmed that when the new store opens in 2015, plans are to close the location at Forest Fair Village, at 300 Cincinnati Mills Drive.

“I have always said if either Babies”R”Us or Bass left the mall, that it would signal the end of Forest Fair/Cincinnati Mills,” said Sara Flaherty of Hamilton.

Flaherty said she shopped at Babies”R”Us at the mall when her two children were younger because it’s the closest one in the area. And when she would go to shop, she would see cars in the parking lot at Babies”R”Us and Bass Pro. But once inside the mall, “it’s a graveyard,” Flaherty said.

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“I’ve lived in this area pretty much my whole life. I remember when Forest Fair was great,” she said.

Over the years, a bigg’s grocery store, an arcade and bars closed at the mall.

“It seems like it’s in a prime location. It’s right off the highway, and it’s in between multiple cities,” she said. “Maybe there isn’t just the business to maintain two big malls like that” and Tri-County Mall in Springdale.

Forest Fair Village crosses Butler and Hamilton county lines, sitting partly in Fairfield and partly in Forest Park.

In its nearly 25-year history, the mall has had at least six owners.

Anchor tenants include Bass Pro Shops, Kohl’s, Babies“R”Us, Danbarry Cinemas and Burlington Coat Factory. Most of the property is empty

The current owner, World Properties LLC of New York, bought the mall at 600 Cincinnati Mills Drive in 2010.

In 2011, property general manager Karla Ellsworth announced plans to redevelop the mall as a mix-used family attraction. Talks were to bring a hotel, ice arena and amusement center to the shopping center.

That hasn’t happened and problems with delinquent taxes — millions in delinquent property taxes are owed to county governments — and payments on a bond issued a decade ago under a previous owner are holding up the mall’s development.

“Obviously (Bass Pro is) a huge loss for the mall and it hurts all of the existing tenants that are there. It probably doesn’t help redevelopment prospects either,” said Greg Kathman, economic development manager of Fairfield.

“It was such a draw for customers that after they went to Bass Pro, maybe they grabbed lunch somewhere else, or shopped the other stores there, or stayed in a hotel room,” Kathman said.

Ellsworth said she can’t comment because Bass Pro hasn’t notified her or World Properties about intentions to end the lease and move.

Bass Pro told Forest Park officials the store was doing well, but it had outgrown the location and with a lease expiration coming up, they were evaluating their options, said Paul Brehm, economic development director of Forest Park. The store selling fishing and other outdoor gear is technically located in Forest Park.

When Bass Pro closes at Forest Fair Village, “it’s going to slow the pace of redevelopment of the facility,” Brehm said.

The mall’s development has been affected by a number of things, including the economic downturn in recent years, Brehm said.

“I think it holds a lot of value, I think it’s one of the reasons people invest in it time and time again,” he said. “I think it’s a matter of finding the right players to come in.”

“The key to repositioning the property is bringing the right people together at the right time. We stand ready to work with the owner and/or other interested parties to bring this site back to its highest and best possible use. The pace of redevelopment must quicken,” he said.

Construction is expected to start on the new West Chester Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World next year, with an opening date sometime in 2015, Bass Pro officials said. The company’s current lease at Forest Fair Village also expires in 2015, said Bass Pro spokeswoman Tammy Sapp.

Bass Pro stores attract customers from 50 miles away on average, the company says, and the future West Chester Twp. site will feature a “shop-ertainment” factor. Uncle Buck’s Fishbowl and Grill will open at the new store, which is a bowling alley and restaurant.

The approximately 200 employees at the Forest Park store will transfer to West Chester Twp. when it opens, Sapp said.

More information about a specific West Chester Twp. site is not yet available, she said. West Chester Twp. officials said to date no zoning or permitting requests have been received.

“Our plan is that we’re going to better serve our customers by creating a better, new facility,” Sapp said. “The next steps are really just part of the normal process of building and designing.”

Bass Pro currently operates 61 shops in the U.S. and Canada.

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