| The Repository
JACKSON TWP. Belden Village Mall began celebrating its 50th birthday this past week as its owner is entrenched in a dispute over finances and a search for a buyer.
As a focal point of the Belden Village regional shopping district, the mall seems as healthy as ever.
Most of its storefronts are filled. Although Sears, an original anchor, closed early this year, the space is being filled. Dave & Buster’s opened a restaurant and entertainment center last fall, while Dick’s Sporting Goods and Galaxy Golf will open in the coming weeks.
Problems lie with Starwood Capital, which bought the property in 2013 from Westfield Group. Starwood West, a division of the larger real estate investment company, relied on the Israeli bond market for financing. The bondholders filed legal action earlier this year, saying they are owed $250 million for the Belden Village Mall and other properties.
Last week, two West Coast companies — Golden East Investors and Pacific Retail Capital Partners — were selected by the trustees of Starwood West Limited and will lead negotiations with senior lenders.
Meanwhile, back in August, Starwood hired Jones Lang LaSalle, based in Chicago, to manage Belden Village Mall and six other malls that are part of Starwood West.
No timeline was mentioned for the negotiations. Indications are the process will end with a new owner for the mall.
Business as usual
Saturday afternoon the mall celebrated its anniversary with music, a 1970s-themed trivia contest, prizes, and a booth where visitors could get photos with a 50th anniversary logo. Festivities are planned through the month.
Mall manager Michael Walsh said operations will continue while Starwood addresses its financial issues.
The coronavirus pandemic has had a bigger impact on operations.
The mall closed for eight weeks in the spring when state officials shut down the economy hoping to restrict the spread of the virus. Since reopening, mall hours have been reduced with the building open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
Walsh pointed out that the mall remains a staple in Jackson Township and the greater Canton community. He hopes the community joins the celebration as the mall continues to “grow and prosper for the next 50 years.”
The past six months, because of the pandemic, have been uncharted territory and challenging, Walsh said. “What this pandemic has proved is that Belden Village Mall is built to be resilient and thanks to the strong support of our surrounding communities, it will continue to flourish.”
Old gravel pit
Cleveland-based developers Jacobs-Visconsi-Jacobs built the mall on a former gravel pit. Off ramps from Interstate 77 to Everhard Road made the project viable.
Once the mall was open, other developers came along with shopping plazas and office buildings.
“It was the original driver that helped transform this area into a regional shopping district,” said Robert Brown, an executive with DeVille Developments. DeVille is one of the companies that built near the mall, and it still has property nearby.
The gravel pit that became the mall was divided into four segments.
Sears purchased the east end, Higbee’s took the west and M. O’Neil Co. had a spot on the south. Today, the Higbee name remains on the property where Dillard’s has its store. Seritage, a real estate investment trust formed by Sears, owns the east end. Belden Mall LLC, with a Carlsbad, Calif., address, owns the bulk of the mall building and what had belonged to O’Neil.
County records value the Seritage property at $7 million, while the Dillard’s portion is valued at more than $7.85 million.
The largest Belden Mall property is valued at more than $31.1 million. It includes the mall, the north parking lot and two restaurants — Bravo and Burntwood Tavern — that front on Everhard Road NW. The building used by Macy’s and the south parking lot are valued at $4.4 million.
The mall property remains a key generator of tax dollars for the township and Jackson Local Schools, Jackson fiscal officer Randy Gonzalez said.
Changes with Starwood, meanwhile, could be a good sign, Gonzalez said. It indicates the mall will have the financial backing that it needs.
Industry observers have been predicting the end of shopping malls and brick-and-mortar stores for several years. They cite the rise of online shopping and success of Amazon.
Northeast Ohio reflects those predictions. Two major shopping malls built after Belden Village — Rolling Acres in Akron and Randall Park in the Cleveland suburbs — are gone with Amazon facilities taking their place. Chapel Hill Mall on Akron’s north side and Carnation Mall in Alliance are essentially vacant.
Canton Centre Mall remains home to J.C. Penney and it has a number of stores facing Tuscarawas Street W, along with Walmart next door. But the mall’s interior, as well as a large former May Co. store, remains vacant.
Belden Village has seen retailers leave, but the mall’s reputation helps it fill vacancies. Walsh cites the addition this year of Dry Goods, Versona, Sahara Grille and Casey’s Edible Cookie Dough. He praises Seritage for working to fill the Sears space with Dave & Buster’s, Dick’s and Golf Galaxy.
While other malls have failed or flounder, Belden Village has a grade of B+ with Green Street, a real estate intelligence firm with international operations. The firm ranks Belden Village among the top five malls in Ohio.
Local management teams at the mall have worked through the years to keep the facility current. Shortly after buying Belden Village, Starwood invested to upgrade lighting, install new floors and make behind the scene improvements.
Later the company remodeled the north entrance facing Everhard Road NW. It added space for more restaurants and made other changes to the exterior.
“It gave it a great facelift,” Gonzalez said.
Meanwhile other developers have improved shopping plazas nearby, attracting new retailers to the area. One of the new draws is Duluth Trading Co., which started as an e-commerce operation but now is opening stores in select locations.
Once reason is because the mall draws shoppers from Dover, New Philadelphia, Cambridge and Wooster, in addition to local residents. Those shoppers spill over to nearby locations.
Belden Village remains a viable market, Brown said. “It’s still a great area. We get calls every week.”