Mall Crawl

Posted May 7, 2009 in News

General Growth Properties, the Chicago-based owner of Redlands Mall and scores of other U.S. shopping centers, has a press release on its website for anyone seeking information about the company’s recent bankruptcy filing. Headlined “Business as Usual at Malls owned by General Growth,” the release is basically three paragraphs expounding on the theme “business as usual.”


“Our shopping centers and other properties will continue to offer the same great visitor experience for which our company is so well known,” Adam Metz, GGP CEO, states.


For Redlands Mall patrons, who for years have watched the center wither like a turd blossom in the IE sun, the idea of “business as usual” is hardly comforting. For Redlands city officials, who have long agonized over what to do about the turd blossom sitting on 174,000 square feet of “prime” downtown real estate, the notion has to be more than a little frustrating.


“We’ve been keeping tabs on the mall and looking at options as that situation develops,” says Redlands spokesman Carl Baker. “We sent [GGP] a letter last November, saying that we would engage with them in earnest discussion regarding the mall. In January, we sent a letter reminding and advising them that they should advise any potential purchaser that we’d need to be involved in any potential purchase. The city owns all the parking at the mall and all the air rights above the mall.”


Baker’s remarks say a lot about the predicament Redlands City Hall finds itself. The city doesn’t just want to be part of the equation regarding the mall’s future; The city is part of the equation. But when GGP on April 16 filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, the future of the long-struggling shopping center became anyone’s guess.


That’s unfortunate because Redlands officials have over time developed some definite—if not complementary—ideas on what they’d like that future to be.  Various suggestions have included helping GGP redevelop the center into an open-air mall with mixed-use retail/residential components; buying the center and turning it into a civic center; and buying it and turning it into a much-needed police headquarters, since the old headquarters was declared structurally unsound. Those intriguing proposals have yet to develop much beyond the suggestion stage for at least a couple of reasons, the first being that Redlands City Council members can’t agree on business philosophy.


“Whether used as a police station or civic center, all that would be up to the council to determine,” Baker says. “There’s the philosophy among some council members that they wouldn’t want to take away a prime retail area.”


Another reason has been the general crappy state of the economy.  How prime is “prime downtown real estate” in the midst of a deep recession? With the commercial real-estate market in such flux, can anyone really blame city officials—or GGP—for their hesitance in committing to a course of action?


“There is no prime retail now because the economy is where it’s at, but there are certainly different schools of philosophy as to what to do,” says Baker.


No kidding, says optician Wes Hayden, owner of Eyeware Specialist and two other stores inside the Redlands Mall. In business for 33 years, Hayden says he’s seen all kinds of ideas come down the pike on how to “fix” the mall. So far, he says, the only thing those ideas ever produced was more uncertainty.


“As a businessman, you want to know what’s happening to the mall,” he says. “Are they going to revitalize it? Do they plan to tear it down? We’re in this situation all the time. I plan on staying here—I’m not going to jump off a bridge and I’m not going to panic. The city of Redlands says it wants to do something with the mall, but you know what? Talk is cheap.”


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