CHESTERFIELD • It’s been three months since Hull Property Group bought the St. Louis region’s largest mall for $13 million. In the months since, there’s little evidence that the new owner of Chesterfield Mall has taken steps to revive the 1.3 million-square-foot property that has more vacancies than stores.
Two of the mall’s anchor tenants, Sears and Dillard’s, closed in recent years, along with the region’s only American Girl store and dozens of other retailers. The mall at Highway 40 (Interstate 64) and Clarkson Road in west St. Louis County was foreclosed on in mid-2017.
In addition to an AMC movie theater, there are only a handful of traditional mall retailers left to pull shoppers in.
In a walk-through of the mall last week, about 13 tenants’ doors were open to shoppers, including a Macy’s department store. Some tenants had signs alerting customers they were only open by appointment or other limited hours — a big change from the mall’s heyday when it bustled with foot traffic and had more than 100 stores.
The mall’s new owner has yet to come forward with a turnaround plan for the property, prompting officials with the city of Chesterfield and developers with ties to the shopping mall to begin to worry.
Coles Hull Doyle, a marketing director with Augusta, Ga.-based Hull Property Group, said the company doesn’t have a redevelopment strategy for Chesterfield Mall and continues to explore its options. The property is not listed as proposed for redevelopment on the firm’s website, as are other properties with revitalization efforts in the works.
Tim Lowe, a vice president of leasing and development for the Staenberg Group, which owns the former Sears store attached to the mall, said it’s unusual for a developer to go so long without a strategy.
Lowe said Hull Property Group, which owns more than 14.5 million square feet of retail space located mostly in southeastern U.S., may have taken on a project that “is way outside of their skill set.”
The delay is also frustrating for city of Chesterfield officials, who have for years been hoping a developer would come along and spearhead a massive overhaul of the property that government officials say they believe could activate that part of the city.
“Certainly, we’d like to know what the status of things are,” said Chesterfield City Administrator Mike Geisel. “I would have expected someone that invested $13 million (into a property) to know what is going on there.”
The fear is Hull could be deploying a buy-and-hold strategy that has become increasingly popular with owners of struggling malls, in which owners invest little money into the properties until a viable strategy comes to them.
Doyle said the firm is still evaluating the property and gauging the market.
“We did not cause the decline in the Chesterfield Mall, and it appears unfair that we are being accused of not immediately having a plan to resurrect it,” she said in an email. “Much of the future of this important property will be driven by market forces.
“This property did not fail overnight and it will not be resurrected overnight,” her email continued. “It takes market interest and a feasible redevelopment plan, both of which take time.”
A redevelopment plan appears to hinge on litigation regarding the mall’s value.
In announcing its deal to buy the mall, Jim Hull, managing principal of Hull Property Group, said the company couldn’t move forward with redevelopment without first lowering its assessed value.
The mall, according to St. Louis County property records, has an assessed value of $11.5 million, down from nearly $19 million five years ago.
Hull Property Group is appealing the $11.5 million figure and is in negotiations with the county assessor’s office to get it lowered, said Sarah Siegel, litigation and policy manager for the assessor’s office. A hearing on the appeal is slated for Oct. 24.
Other Hull Property Group’s redevelopment projects have taken such a route.
The firm bought the Alton Square Mall in 2015 and began negotiating an initial $24 million assessment before it started meaningful work on turning around the struggling mall. Last month, Alton lawmakers approved up to $9 million in incentives to help support the redevelopment.
When St. Louis Centre opened on Aug. 8 back in 1985, it was cause for celebration at the rejuvenation of downtown. But its fortunes changed an…
Hull Property Group bought a mall in Kingston, N.Y., for $8.1 million in 2017 and sat on the property until the value of the mall was reduced from $66 million to less than $7 million. Only then did Hull Property begin to make improvements to the property, such as putting up decorative walls in place of vacant stores and upgrades to the movie theater.
Such a strategy would certainly decrease the amount of tax revenue Chesterfield receives from the property, although that figure has been in decline for years.
Geisel, Chesterfield’s city administrator, previously said the city is not looking for “a Band-Aid-fix” and would prefer “some type of transformational change.”