The Charleston Town Center, a down-on-its-luck mall in the middle of downtown that once was the crown jewel of retail shopping in the region and the largest in-city mall east of the Mississippi River, has a new owner and, supposedly, a new future. Just what that will be is hard to tell.
The Hull Property Group, based in Augusta, Georgia, announced it had purchased the mall in a news release issued Monday. So far, a purchase price has not been disclosed. U.S. National Bank acquired the property for $35 million after ownership defaulted on a loan more than two years ago. The bank put the property up for sale in February.
The new owner, which has 33 mall properties scattered mostly throughout the Southeastern U.S., seems to see a lot of the same challenges with the property that we do. It’s downtown, so there’s little room for expansion and fewer options for overhaul. It’s also boxed in by attached parking garages that are not a part of the mall, but independent properties.
Jim Hull, owner of Hull Property Group, gave some hints about the immediate future. His first priority, he said, is to work to keep what stores and restaurants still remain at the Charleston Town Center from leaving. So it seems retail is still part of the plan. However, Hull also said he wants to “reposition” the mall as more of a part of downtown Charleston, and address the general trend of national retailers pulling up stakes at places like the Town Center.
This hints toward turning the mall into a mixed-use property. Failing malls across the country have gone this route, adding businesses such as legal offices, medical or dental practices or other services to whatever retail shopping or dining a facility can attract or retain. Not too far from Charleston, the Kyova Mall in Boyd County, Kentucky, added a movie theater, two restaurants, a branch of the local library and an auxiliary county clerk’s office to the vacant stores. You could easily see something like the West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles putting an office in the Town Center.
Mixed use along those lines isn’t the most exciting thing in the world, but it keeps the property going and generates more foot traffic.
Of course, this is all an educated guess right now. The Hull Property Group could have something completely different in mind.
Whatever the plan, hopefully Hull’s stated goal “to create a successful future for not only the mall but the entire downtown area,” proves successful.