Frankly, what they do and how they do it is none of our concern … except as a customer who doesn’t go there nearly as much as in the past. One suspects that most readers also don’t walk its wide hallways as often as before for a lot of reasons starting with it being a shadow of its former self and, of course, the advent of the internet where many shoppers have let their fingers/mice do the walking. That, of course, is the mall’s fundamental problem and curing it is going to be interesting to observe but not anybody’s worry except those of the owners, the tenants and the employees. And you, me, all within driving range only to the extent of being potential customers.
It’s a private business, as is this newspaper. How they do things is none of our business … other than hoping they advertise their presence and activities more than some of their predecessors — and become more active in the overall community than some of those former owners.
At the same time, the mall’s success — and survival for that matter, as some such former magnets of American consumerism have been going belly up — is a public concern. There are jobs involved and those employees are taxpayers. There are sales involved, and those sales generate taxes. There are property values involved and potential satellite site developments involved, which similarly generate taxes and perhaps even more jobs. And, of course, a successful mall provides yet another reason to come to the big city … which Greater Rome is for a potential mall market of 250,000-300,000.
If the new management wants, as already indicated, to get rid of frills, doodads, pretties, landscaping and concentrate on making rents appealing and filling up spaces to get the mall back on its feet, more power to them. Greater Rome is Northwest Georgia’s health-care center; most residents know the difference between hospice care and charging up the paddles, shocking the patient back to life and rolling him/her into surgery. In recent years, Mount Berry Square has looked like a hospice patient.
WHAT WAS paid for the mall was apparently $6 million, according to deed transfer records. It had been on the market listed for $11 million. The new owners have been quoted as not believing in paying more for a distressed mall than the value of the dirt it sits on. Guess that reveals how much those 92 acres within the perimeter road, minus that gigantic building, are worth. Nor are these new owners apparently adverse to ripping down chunks of a mall they can’t fill (they tore the middle out of one in Macon), or parking garages they can’t use to try to save their patient. Again, in medical terms, better to chop off a leg than lose the patient.
Just for a bit of historical contrast indicating how much times can change, when the mall opened in 1991, on 130 acres that Crown American had purchased from Berry College, the cost of building it was put at $50 million. That’s $84 million in today’s dollars. The mall itself is now down to those 92 acres as most the outparcels have long since been sold off. Back in the day, the mall had four anchors (only three remain) plus space for an additional 100 retailers. It had originally been planned with three anchors but interest was so high that space for a fourth was added and total space was reported to have grown to 600,000 square feet. It was expected to create 1,200 jobs.
It currently doesn’t take very good eyesight to detect that nothing like those 1991 expectations exist there now.
By the way, the new owners might appreciate knowing that if they start ripping/gouging the earth they won’t encounter any unexpected surprises. Construction/grading of the original mall was delayed when an undocumented cemetery of about 15 graves was discovered and the bodies had to be relocated.
And, as one suspects the mall’s new managers know, if they can keep their patient breathing they might well find it becoming the picture of health in the future. The new Armuchee Connector has opened up another way to get there and, should the Tennis Center of Georgia on next-door land donated by Berry College become reality there are going to be a lot of new people showing up steadily in the immediate vicinity.
GIVEN THAT the new ownership makes a repeated point of stressing visibility inside and outside the mall — that’s why kiosks are to vanish, for example — they probably recognize that being seen from the outside is as important as what can be seen on the inside … which has to be something other than empty storefronts. It will be interesting to see how they address that as the mall, still an imposing sight, is set well back off Martha Berry Highway and could easily be mistaken by strangers as the massive headquarters building of some national conglomerate. The more visible outparcel locations right along the highway are all now occupied, one can tell what they are, and appear fairly busy. Either one knows what is in the main structure or one does not. Quick now, name 10 stores inside besides the anchors. That is probably the true visibility problem. And what is (left) in the food court?
However the mall’s operators now attempt to change all this is of interest to the whole of the community, not only potential shoppers. The economic heart of any community doesn’t beat unless there’s an adequate supply of blood circulating. Mount Berry Square used to be that sort of a pulse to far greater extent than at present and could be again. That would be good for everybody, not just the new owners.
Like most newcomers to town, the investors have tossed out general concepts like wanting the mall to be “fashion conscious’’ and hoping to spur development of a “concentration’’ of retailing businesses in the immediate vicinity. The latter is usually code for creating a “new downtown,’’ the same as was in vogue for the mall when it opened 20 years ago. Just as a consumer — good luck with that one. The actual original downtown core and immediate surrounding area has tremendously strengthened itself in recent years (with plans for even more on the drawing boards) and the population spurt on the Armuchee end of the county likely has been blunted by the housing dive and general economic malaise.
FORTUNATELY, the new owners will likely learn that in short order and shape what they do to the actual local market, which is unusual in many ways and does not fit most textbook examples of economic or retailing development. They’re planning to study the lay of the land for six months to a year before deciding how to proceed. What they’re doing now appears mainly the quick and easy stuff they’ve learned works elsewhere, even though a lot of it is going to be quite visible to shoppers.
It’ll be interesting to see what they figure out about how to compete in the sense of offering this region’s shoppers additional options and filling voids rather than “more of the same.”
But most of all isn’t it intriguing to look in the direction of Mount Berry Square and have the “’hot stove league” of shoppers wonder about what might soon be “different’’ in order to remove any remaining inclinations to drive away from this community in order to browse around in otherwise unavailable corners of our consumer-driven society.
And, most important of all, it adds considerable excitement to have local “players” on the scene who know that the making of omelets requires the breaking of eggs and that nothing is gained without something first being ventured.
Heck, maybe such an attitude will even spill over into local government and the community at large.