AUGUSTA, Ga. - The owners of the Fairgrounds Square Mall in Muhlenberg Township are responding to criticism from at least one of the township's commissioners.
Hull Property Group, which paid $1.16 million to buy the struggling mall in 2016, shared with 69 News on Wednesday plans that the Augusta, Georgia-based firm said it has also shared with township officials, adding that the company has not been unresponsive to their concerns.
"Hull Property Group officials have personally visited with township, school board and county officials on five different occasions in the last year and a half, in addition to numerous phone calls with township manager Jamal Abodalo," said John Mulherin, Hull's vice president of government relations. "Hull Property Group has been frank with township officials. The Fairgrounds Square Mall is a failed property and it failed many years prior to our purchase."
Hull's response came after comments made at a meeting Tuesday night by township Commissioner Michael Malinowski, who complained that the firm has not returned repeated phone calls from the township.
"We have a lot of good stuff going on in our community, so I would ask that if [Hull Management Group is] not interested in engaging us that I would hope they would do what is appropriate and allow others that want to engage with our community to do so," Malinowski said. "It's time to put up or shut up."
Mulherin said Hull realizes that the mall's location in the heart of the North Fifth Street Highway's commercial corridor represents the best possible place in the township for "new retail," but significant changes to the property need to be made first.
"We have shared plans with the township to demolish 68.1 percent of the existing mall structure to create a new retail offering or pad-ready site for future retail," Mulherin said. "We proposed to demolish 373,027 square feet of 547,879 total square feet, at a cost to our firm in millions of dollars."
The project's holdup, however, has been that the tax incentive Hull said it was offered by the township makes it "economically unfeasible" to begin redevelopment without first having new tenants on board.
"This is a tremendous program if the end user (i.e. new tenant) has been identified and a lease signed," Mulherin said. "The redevelopment of Fairgrounds Square Mall, however, is speculative in nature in that, the majority of the mall needs to be torn down in an effort to attract a new tenant."
Mulherin said Hull has proposed a tax increment financing district (TIF) being formed around the mall.
"All taxing bodies will continue to receive what they have been receiving in ad valorem taxes for a negotiated number of years, not to exceed the statutory limit of 25 years," Mulherin said. "A TIF is the only mechanism which provides the necessary economic justification needed to immediately and sacrificially demolish 373,027 square feet of otherwise good and usable buildings."
Hull's plans show that the space left after demolition would include that currently occupied by Boscov's, the AMC Classic Fairgrounds 10 movie theater, Burlington, Super Shoes, and Planet Fitness.
The existing pad sites also would not be affected by the proposed development, and some plans show the addition of a possible hotel and restaurant.
The demolished part of the mall would be replaced by green space and possibly a handful of retail stores. One plan also shows the addition of townhomes on the parking lot behind the existing mall.
Hull said it stands ready to re-engage with the township on a plan to redevelop the mall property and breathe new life into the commercial corridor.
"Hull Property Group has a proven track record of redeveloping failed mall properties in 13 states," Mulherin said. "When able to work with community leadership on a mutually agreed upon redevelopment plan, we will heavily invest in the repurposing of the failed property."
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