The company indicated when it acquired the mall last fall that it would take six months to a year to do the due diligence needed to embark on its redevelopment plan, said Coles Hull, market analyst for Hull Storey Gibson Companies LLC, which operates Mount Berry Square mall as Rome Mall LLC.
“We see this as a long-term investment. We’re committed to the mall,” Hull said. “We want to take our time to really get into the market and understand it, to make sure we have a strong plan.”
The daughter of Hull Gibson Storey partner Jim Hull, Coles Hull said she hopes that by mid-year the company will be able to start implementing the first phases of a redevelopment effort.
“The scope of what it will include — whether it’s renovations, improvements to the layout, or a more strategic approach to moving forward — I really don’t know what it will look like,” she said.
Several of the existing mall merchants have some ideas about the type of stores they’d like to see come to Mount Berry Square
“Kohl’s would get some different people out here,” said Frankie Ford, who has been manager at Maurices since the mall opened.
“More variety in the food court would also get some people out here.”
Hull said the company does have a pretty clear vision for what a successful mall in the Rome market needs to have.
“We know that in order to be successful, that we need a lineup of national tenants that really complement one another and are compatible with the enclosed mall venue,” said Hull.
“That’s something we’ve started to analyze, evaluate and work on, which is why you’ve seen some tenants leaving the mall.”
Pokey’s Hometown Sports, Medley, A Touch of Wireless and B. Cooper Ice Cream have all left the mall.
The Connect City Church will be gone within the next six weeks.
Hull said the church was a wonderful group to deal with, but its move is very symbolic of the Hull Storey Gibson philosophy going forward.
“They don’t really benefit from a venue that is open 72 hours a week, 52 weeks a year; and they don’t benefit from being around other retail tenants,” Hull said.
“That’s the philosophy behind a lot of the tenant departures. It’s about the tenant mix that we are looking to have inside the mall. Our target-tenant is a national retailer, because that is who succeeds in an enclosed mall venue and in turn makes the mall successful.”
Hull said the “72 hours a week, 52 weeks a year” concept is critical to the philosophy of the new mall owners.
“We’re open morning, noon and night, and we can accommodate the varying needs of shoppers. Because of that, tenants have pretty high operating costs,” Hull said.
“The enclosed mall concept is really designed for those tenants that thrive off that format, and those tenants are typically national retailers.
Grant Wells, owner of the Chick-fil-A franchise in the mall, said he was very comfortable with the new owners taking their time to develop a game plan for the future.
“I think we’ll know in a year or two; it’ll take six months to a year,” Wells said. “I’d love to see something like a Kohl’s or Dick’s Sports. I’d love to see the mall more occupied by the national brands.”
Hull believes the fact that Hull Storey Gibson has a presence across eight states and owns 17 other malls will be a significant factor in the attraction of national retailers to Rome.
“If you look at it — in the past it’s been bounced around from owner to owner, from manager to manager, and it’s really been a property in transition, which is oftentimes fearful for a retailer,” Hull said.
“They see a property in transition, (and) they don’t have a clear future. When we acquire a mall, our first goal is to stabilize the property. By stabilizing the property, we think that we’ll be able to attract these retailers.”
Hull Storey Gibson was able to acquire the mall for $6 million. Does the fact that the company does not have a huge overhead play into the ability to lure national tenants?
“The terms of the leases, they really vary,” Hull said. “Our rents are not necessarily going up or going down; they’re pretty on par with what you would find in the market. It probably isn’t going to change much.”
Debbie Burns at the Great American Cookie Co. in the mall suggested the new owners look at Dillard’s, Target, Macy’s or even a Frederick’s of Hollywood.
“Not everybody is a little petite size for Victoria’s Secret,” said Burns.
She also suggested that additional variety on the food court might help, including a Pretzelmaker or Taco Bell.
“Retailers are always looking for spaces where they will be successful,” Hull said.
“If we can show them that we are committed to making this a successful mall venue, they will in turn want to be a part of that venture.”
Hull stops well short of identifying any potential new tenants for the mix.
“We’re still working on attracting interest to Rome,” she said.
The company has already made major cosmetic changes — removing the carousel, eliminating the kiosks and the vending machines, which were seen as competitors for the food court tenants.
“We really do think that this process will speak to the retailers that we are trying to attract,” Hull said.
“It will show them our commitment to the property and really encourage them that this market, though small, is the right place for them — that they can succeed.”