Mount Berry Square Mall. Ken Caruthers/RN-T

Mount Berry Square Mall. Ken Caruthers/RN-T
Berry Crossing from Redmond Circle. Ken Caruthers/RN-T

Berry Crossing from Redmond Circle. Ken Caruthers/RN-T
Day-to-day operations continue as normal at Mount Berry Square mall as ownership transfers to Jones Lang LaSalle, which was appointed receiver of the property in January after the previous owner, the Lightstone Group, went into default on a loan secured by Mount Berry Square and three other retail properties.

“We have to re-evaluate the property, the tenants, decide what it’s worth, get the paperwork transferred,” said Rick Vita, a senior vice president with Jones Lang LaSalle. “The first 60 to 90 days is just the beginning.”

In the receivership process, Jones Lang LaSalle acts as the primary leasing and managing agent and looks for the most profitable strategy for the mall.

One of the first steps is to sign to long-term leases tenants whose contracts had expired and were leasing month-to-month. “Our first objective was to tie them up to two- or three-year leases and stabilize the mall,” Vita said. He said his company has already signed “four or five” tenants.

Jones Lang LaSalle is a national listing agency, and in another early step, “We put a leasing agent on it who started going through the Rolodex,” contacting national retail chains, Vita said. He said another agent is working on regional chains.

Meanwhile, the local management team, led by General Manager Lori Wilcoxon, continued to try to lure area tenants while running the mall. Japan Café recently opened in the food court and will be joined in May by Lamichoacana, with offerings including hamburgers, french fries, smoothies and salads, Wilcoxon said.

The food court has no vacancies but has room to expand, she said.

Recently Chick-fil-A and Maurices at the mall remodeled.

The mall has lost Aladdin’s Castle and Pearle Vision this year. Circuit City, which was located on an outparcel, declared bankruptcy, and the Rome store closed in March. Circuit City owns the building, so the mall is unaffected, except to the extent the closing could bring less traffic to the mall.

The mall has 47 stores, including anchors Belk, Sears and JCPenney.

The mall does not disclose occupancy rates.

A little more than 20 acres behind the mall is zoned multi-family and might benefit the mall if developed. Kerry Kirby, president of Intradel Corp. in New Orleans, said he intends to keep the zoning, but development is on hold because of the weak economy.

“There are a number of prohibitive factors right now,” Kirby said.

Keeping eye on developments

Wilcoxon said she and Jones Lang LaSalle keep up with proposed retail developments around Rome, which are largely stalled by the stagnant economy, that would compete for shopping dollars.

CVS Pharmacy opened March 29, on schedule, at Berry Crossing, at Martha Berry Boulevard and Redmond Road. Building sites for as many as 12 shops and a restaurant await tenants.

But other, larger proposed developments bear more watching. The Boulevard, a concept on roughly 27 acres of land around State Mutual Stadium, is a detailed mix of retail, restaurants, offices and entertainment. The land is owned by Northwest Georgia LLC, which is trying to market the concept in the contracting economy.

Developer Robert Bogle, who helped design The Boulevard, said he has turned his attention full time to the Hight Homes public housing units at Turner McCall Boulevard and North Fifth Avenue.

The Northwest Georgia Housing Authority wants to sell the site of nine prime commercial acres to a commercial developer and has three proposals on the table intended to accomplish that. But Bogle’s proposal, The Gardens, would preserve the homes, sell them, create a garden atmosphere in their midst and build 15,000 square feet of retail space facing Turner McCall Boulevard.

An advisory committee reviewed all four proposals Monday and asked the bidders to submit revised proposals by May 8.

In other parts of Rome, the largest possible developments include one by R.H. Ledbetter Properties Inc. on 80 acres of brownfield at the northeast corner of Riverside Parkway and Turner McCall Boulevard. The company is going through the environmental and other due diligence to redevelop the land.

Commercial Land Ventures LLC of Montgomery, Ala., has options to purchase approximately 60 acres along U.S. 411 between Holiday Inn Express and the East Rome Wal-Mart. Called Seven Hills Town Center, the developers have yet to seek rezoning for the site. Some of the landowners have said the company won’t close on the property until 2010.

And then there are the downtown shops.

Willcoxon wonders if the area will support that much retail.

“As a community, we’re going to have to be proactive about new ventures and how we handle it,” she said. “There’s only so much retail that can survive in this size market, and vacant spaces aren’t good for anybody. You have to get the right retailers here.”

‘A community center’

Wilcoxon said the mall is doing all right in the downturn. “People have lost jobs, and they’re not spending the way they were, but we’re still healthy.”

She said some of the mall’s stores are No. 1 in their districts, and people respond well to the mall’s promotions.

Businesses will set up booths at the mall this afternoon for a Home-Based Business Show. Other upcoming promotions include a Mother’s Day promotion that starts Friday; a carnival May 19-23; a Floyd County Schools art show in May; a sidewalk sale May 22-25; and an arts and crafts fair June 19-21.

Also, Wilcoxon and crew are working on a Kids’ Club promotion for the summer. Coosa Valley Cycling Association will have three races leave from the mall May 9. Paper Recovery of Georgia Inc. has placed a paper-recycling bin near the flagpole that benefits the William S. Davies Homeless Shelter.

“We try to be a community center,” Wilcoxon said.

“The mall itself is in great shape, physically,” Vita said. “They’ve been hurt like everybody else by the economy. It’s not going to turn around in three or four months. It’s going to take a couple of years. But it will get better.”

Article Courtsey of Rome News Tribune