Richland Mall thinks innovation to survive

The Richland Source recently reported on Richland Mall’s recent teaming up with Avita Health Systems.

Shopping malls have been a fixture in American consumerism since their inception in the 1950s, but competition from big retailers and online shopping has taken its toll on malls around the country. In Richland County, the Richland Mall has resorted to thinking creatively in order to survive.  About one-third of the approximately 1,200 enclosed malls in the U.S. are dead or dying, according to a March 2015 article by Curbed. But according to Georgia Tech professor and architect Ellen Dunham-Jones, who tracks retrofitted retail spaces, 221 enclosed malls in the U.S. are in various stages of redevelopment.

“We realize that to rebuild the desirability of aging centers a new way of thinking is required,” said Robyn Marano, Vice President of Marketing at Madison Marquette, in a written statement. “Malls today are struggling to capture the attention of consumers due to being in constant competition with online retailers and an increased big box presence.”

Madison Marquette, a Capital Guidance Company, has managed Richland Mall since 2012. Nationally, Madison Marquette has effectively taken tired shopping centers and redeveloped them into flourishing lifestyle destinations that meet the new experimental needs and desires of their local communities.

“Madison Marquette saw an opportunity in an old, tired department store space in Richland Mall and used it not only as a vehicle to attract new retailers, but to reposition the center to continue to meet the needs of the shopper and the community,” said Marano.

The Richland Mall has seen its share of challenges in the past few years. In July 2015, the Richland Mall was ordered to be sold as the result of a foreclosure action granted to Wells Fargo Bank.  The foreclosure action began on Sept. 9, 2014 with the United States Bankruptcy Court Eastern Division of the Northern District of Ohio, and Judge Patricia A. Gaughan rendered the decision in favor of plaintiff Wells Fargo against defendant Centro Richland, LLC. The case indicates the owner of the mall, Centro Richland, owes more than $40 million.  However, despite its challenges Richland Mall has continued to make noticeable improvements to the center, including new directional signage, fresh landscaping, parking lot enhancements and lighting improvements.

Ontario Mayor Randy Hutchinson said the Richland Mall was the first retail hub in the area, with the surrounding businesses soon following.  “For years all we had was the mall, and all these businesses feed off each other,” he said. “If you come here to shop at one, there’s a good likelihood you’re going to shop at others. Having an establishment like that brings people in.”

Marano said that for suburban residents, malls have been so much more than just a place to shop, serving as a gathering place for nearby residents in addition to providing services. The future of malls will depend on thinking outside of that box.

Nationally, medical facilities have become a serious option for mall conversions. In 2007, 436,524 square feet of Nashville’s 100 Oaks Mall were leased to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, which established the space as a satellite location housing “20 medical clinics as well as accounting, billing and other administrative offices.”

Richland Mall followed a similar model with perhaps the most significant improvement to the mall: the addition of Avita Health System in December 2014.  Since it has opened, Avita has exceeded expectations with center traffic up more than 10 percent,” said Marano. “The employees and future employees are built-in customers for the mall.”  On Nov. 17, 2015, the second phase of Avita’s development at the Richland Mall was announced, including a 22-bed emergency department, an intensive care unit and inpatient wing, and expanded physician capabilities including four new surgical suites.  Once completed, the 185,500 square-foot facility will create more than 350 new jobs and provide health care to nearly 125,000 residents in portions of three counties in north central Ohio.

“Who would have imagined that five years ago a retail store would become a full-service health system?” said Kelby King, Avita’s director of marketing and community relations, on Nov. 17.  Hutchinson also praised Avita’s forward-thinking initiative to repurpose the former Lazarus department store. He noted the health system’s second phase of development will attract even more visitors from outside Richland County.

“Avita is definitely a boost to the mall, I think it makes the mall more marketable because you’re going to have that extra traffic in and out of there,” said Hutchinson. “Avita investing in our community will have a ripple effect in Ontario and the rest of Richland County. It’s a wonderful thing, it’s a great asset for the community.”

The addition of Avita fits right in with Madison Marquette’s goal for the mall to bring in mixed-use opportunities that might not have been considered before, as well as other needs including improved restaurant and casual food options plus new retail and services.

“Madison Marquette’s revitalization plans for Richland Mall speaks to our proven track record in repositioning centers into better performing, higher yield assets for our clients,” said Robert Steiner, senior vice president of real estate services. “Richland Mall fits the profile of projects ideally suited to our integrated investment and operating platform.”

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