SAGINAW TOWNSHIP, MI — Planners say Fashion Square Mall could evolve from its retail roots after a fast-approaching foreclosure auction likely delivers the once-thriving shopping destination to its fourth owner in two decades.
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Saginaw Township leaders are working to help the aging facility avoid becoming a retail graveyard that will lead to more and more abandoned American malls.
“This is not a sky-is-falling scenario,”James Wickman, Saginaw Township Manager.
“It’s maybe no more bad news than what everybody already knows about (online retail’s) impact on mall retail. Fashion Square still has tenants and it still is a place to go; it’s just going to have new ownership.”
Through the Saginaw County Circuit Court, officials say the mall in fall 2020 entered receivership after its owner — Great Neck, New York-based Namdar Realty Group — defaulted on $34.8 million in mortgage debt owed to Wells Fargo.
Namdar retains ownership of the mall under receivership. The appointed “receiver” in the receivership — Michael Kalil, chief operating officer at the Southfield-based commercial real estate developer, NAI Farbman — oversees the property as it remains open for business in the interim.
The public foreclosure auction is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 8 at 10 a.m. Near the front entrance of Saginaw County Governmental Center (111 S. Michigan in Saginaw).
While the auction could land the keys to the mall in new hands, Kalil said it’s more likely Wells Fargo will make the winning bid and task him with launching a search for a long-term owner.
“When we put it on the market — likely in 2022 — that’s when we’ll see the real interest from other developers,”He said.
“And there will be interest.”
Finding firmer footing
One week after the shop center turns 49, the foreclosure auction will be held.
Despite a years-long downturn in retail sales, officials remain optimistic Fashion Square Mall’s decades-deep roots in township commerce will keep the facility occupied and active entering its second half-century of existence.
In a way, Saginaw Township earlier this week signed off on a community-wide commitment to ensuring the site’s survival.
At its Monday, Sept. 27, meeting, the township Board of Trustees approved its latest master plan document, which in part provides a guidebook for the municipality’s real estate strategy.
The majority of the 107-page report describes plans in generalities. One exception is Fashion Square Mall, which includes the surrounding businesses that are dependent on the traffic it attracts.
“While the current mall is almost entirely a retail district, future redevelopment of this collective district may include numerous non-retail — or even non-commercial — uses and concepts,”On page 30, the master plan is stated. “The township will continue engaging with stakeholders to consider proposals and investments beneficial to the community at the Fashion Square Mall district.”
Wickman said the passage was added because of community demand for the mall’s continued economic endurance — even if that endurance means shaping the old shopping center into something new.
The master planning process began in February 2020 with a 20-question survey distributed to residents. It resulted in 642 responses that provided guidance on top priorities in townships. More than half of respondents were able to respond. “envisioned extensive renovations”The results were revealed at Fashion Square Mall
“We don’t have any great secrets on how to turn around a mall, but we want to be proactive and think outside the box,”Wickman regularly communicates with management at the facility covering 786,000 square feet.
Kalil said “outside-the-box”This could include developing the site with other elements.
“There are investors out there that would continue to operate it as a regional mall,” Kalil said. “There are other investors that might look at some other purpose, like a mixed-use component.”
One model could follow the example of The Shops at WestshoreHe said. The Holland outlet features retail stores as well as recreational and entertainment-centric venues. Visitors there shop, eat, enjoy salon visits, and golf — all within walking distance.
Wickman stated that the township planners are open to working with developers to transform the mall to meet community demand.
“We don’t want to be passive and just sit back and watch what happens,”He said.
“We want to be thinking, ‘What does the next version of Fashion Square Mall look like, and are our township policies and ordinances accommodative of new ideas.’ We know that the future of the old Fashion Square Mall is changing, and we want to be at the forefront of that.”
A fashionable history
Fashion Square Mall’s future was established Oct. 4, 1972, when the first shoppers entered the facility that was built on 71 acre of farmland.
JCPenney Anchor Tenants and Sears were the main attractions back then. Other inaugural tenants included Town & Country Fashions, William C. Wiechmann Co., Bintz Sports, Carter Shop, Seitner’s, Alfano’s Stride Rite, and Tait’s Hobby Shop.
Saginaw Township was experiencing rapid growth at that time. Between 1960-1980, the population of Saginaw Township grew rapidly. ‘70, the number of residents surged by 74.4%, to 27,234 people. Within the mall’In the first ten years, the population grew by 42%.
The new retail attraction attracted people and commerce from nearby communities.
Prior to 1972, the region’s can’t-miss shopping destinations included downtown Saginaw, with the now-defunct Jacobson’s as a centerpiece there. The once-bustling Buena Vista Township-based Fort Saginaw Mall — standing then where a grassy field grows now — also began its decline after the new shopping center arrived.
Fashion Square Mall was overflowing with customers during America’s mall boom of the 1970s. ‘80s.
Parents sought clothes at Hudson’s after dropping kids off to play Pac Man at Aladdin’s Castle. Adults leafed through Tom Clancy novels in Waldenbooks and teenagers held headphones to their ears to sample albums at Sam Goody’s. Babies were able to cry while taking pictures with Santa Claus. They then smiled alongside the Easter Bunny during the holiday shopping seasons.
The shopping center also fed a hungry commercial neighborhood, attracting business growth along Tittabawassee roads in those early years.
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The site also provided residential support. Visitors came from other areas via the interstate off ramp, which is located a mile further down the street.
Fashion Square Mall grew over the years, sometimes to meet customer demand, but other times to generate it.
A new food court was opened in 1993 to provide food for customers who shopped long hours. Eight years later, the facility received a $10 million facelift. This gave it a 21st-century look and updated its 1970s-built structure.
But foot traffic thinned in the center’s corridors over the years, both as a result of the region’s shrinking populace and consumer buying habits shifting toward online stores. One of the mall’s original anchors, Sears, exited in August 2019. However, store vacancies had been around for a while as fewer tenants expressed interest to the 100-unit mall.
Ownership is also reduced with the passage of time.
Nearly 30 years after the mall opened, Chattanooga-based CBL & Associates Property Inc. in January 2001 purchased the complex along with 20 other regional malls and two shopping centers from the mall’s developer — Cleveland-based Richard E. Jacobs Group Inc. — for $1.2 billion.
Fünfzehn years later, the mall was sold in July 2016 to Namdar Realty Group — along with The Lakes in Muskegon — for an aggregate price of $66.5 million, including the assumption of a $38.2 million loan secured by Fashion Square Mall.
It seems that another owner could soon take over the reins of the business five years later.
‘Malls are like sports cars’
Despite ownership changes Paul Martin was retained as the mall’s general manager. He also kept his office on-site after twenty years.
“Status quo,”He answered when asked how the mall was running during the receivership period.
A sign the mall isn’t going away anytime soon: Martin coordinated a job fair earlier this month to beef up employee numbers for the facility’s tenants in preparation for the holiday shopping season.
Officials from the townships and real estate developers acknowledge the general pessimism of the public about the viability for in-person shopping centers in 2021. But they insist Fashion Square Mall’s importance to Saginaw Township and the surrounding communities means it won’t suffer the fate of so many shuttered big box businesses that left behind oversized, vacated eyesores and empty parking lots.
Wickman was optimistic about the mall’s future in part because of the continued presence of one of its original anchor stores, JCPenney. Last year, the bankruptcy plan included the closing of JCPenney. the company closed seven Michigan storesYou can also find it in nearby Bay City or Mount Pleasant.
“But they’ve kept this location open, and there’s a reason for that,”Wickman said. “Fashion Square is still important in this region. It’s at a prominent corner, and in a lot of ways, it’s a gateway to our community.”
Jim Bieri, a long-time Michigan mall realty developer, was also confident about the Saginaw Township shopping centre.
Stokas Bieri Real Estate is a Detroit-based principal. Bieri oversees search for new occupants at the unit that once belonged to Sears. Unlike the part of the mall in receivership, Sears owned its space in the building’s northernmost box, meaning it won’t be sold as part of the October auction. It is likely to be sold. Hoffman Estates, Illinois-based Transformco — which now owns Sears and its former space in the mall — hired Bieri for the task.
“Malls are like sports cars: They need constant attention and investment,”Bieri. “For these malls to make it, they need new investment. There’s going to be interest.”
Bieri, a Saginaw native with relatives still living in the area, said that Fashion Square Mall was a familiar landmark to him since its inception.
“I don’t know exactly what will happen to this center, but it’s a great piece of real estate,”He said.
Macy’s is the only other commercial occupant that owns its own unit in Fashion Square Mall.
The rest of the mall is:
“There are a lot of options out there for Fashion Square,” Kalil said on the likely eve of his role as the shopping center’s legal receiver.
“It’s well-located, and we still have two anchors (in JCPenney and Macy’s) and a lot of retailers, so we don’t envision it going dark or being a tear-down property. We view it as a very buyable property.”