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Plans for mall aired
Liberty Fair to become outdoor shopping center
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The entrance to Liberty Fair Mall is seen Monday. A spokesperson for Hull Storey GIbson, which owns the mall, said Monday that it will be transformed into an outdoor shopping center rather than an enclosed mall. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Liberty Fair Mall will be transformed from an enclosed shopping mall to one with stores that open to the outside rather than an interior hall, its owner announced Monday.

Architectural plans are being developed, said Coles Hull, a marketing analyst for the Hull Storey Gibson Companies. Therefore, she said, she had no details of what the mall eventually will look like.

However, the company stated in a release to the Martinsville Bulletin that it intends to transform the current 434,000-square-foot retail complex into “a first-class shopping center.”

Hull confirmed that means Liberty Fair will become a so-called “strip mall,” with tenants’ entrances opening to the outside instead of an interior hall.

The intent is for the complex to have a nice appearance and a mix of stores and other businesses, company officials said.

Liberty Fair opened in 1989. As tenants exited the mall in recent years, Hull Storey Gibson determined that it no longer could succeed as an enclosed mall, according to the release.

Hull said she did not know why. Possible reasons, she said, could be that the mall did not have the right mix of tenants and/or that it was “overbuilt” for a community the size of Martinsville-Henry County.

“We weighed different possibilities” and determined that the best option is to turn Liberty Fair into a strip-style shopping center, Hull said.

She acknowledged that some other similar centers in the area have vacant retail spaces and/or have declined in appearance over the years.

She said, though, that Hull Storey Gibson remains committed to rejuvenating Liberty Fair in a way that it will remain the area’s main shopping destination.

“Our leasing team is working very hard” to bring in new stores and businesses, Hull said. Negotiations are continuing with some prominent national retailers, she emphasized. She did not know how soon Hull Storey Gibson will be able to announce that any of those retailers will be coming to Liberty Fair.

Hull said she thinks the mall will attract major retailers as it is redeveloped because it already has some, and due to stores’ recent investments there.

Liberty Fair currently has a dozen tenants. Inside the mall are the Armed Forces Recruiting Center, Belk, Country Cookin’, GNC, JoAnn Fabric & Craft, maurices, National Optical, Rack Room Shoes, and Wrap, Pack & Mail.

Most of those are either national or regional chains. All remain in, or have been relocated to, the mall’s west side near Belk, according to Hull.

Kroger, Marshalls and OfficeMax are on the mall’s east side.

Marshalls opened its off-price department store at the mall last fall. Kroger recently finished remodeling its supermarket there and opened a gas station near Belk, investing about $4 million in those projects, officials have said.

Because redevelopment plans are not yet finished, Hull said she could not speculate as to how many tenants the shopping center eventually will have and how much space they will occupy.

But “we have invested in Martinsville with the intent to create a vibrant, second-to-none, regional retail shopping center,” Jim Hull, the company’s managing principal, said in the release.

“We are working hard with prospective tenants and local government to finalize the scope of the improvement plans,” he said, adding that the company plans to share further details “in the near future.”

Based in Augusta, Ga., Hull Storey Gibson owns 21 enclosed malls and 20 other shopping centers in the Southeast. Danville’s former Piedmont Mall, recently renovated and renamed Danville Mall, is one of those properties.

Hull Storey Gibson bought Liberty Fair in May 2012 for an undisclosed price. The purchase came three months after the mall was sold at auction for $15 million to a financial lender who was the note holder. The auction stemmed from a default on a loan, according to reports at the time.

Redevelopment plans for Liberty Fair have been underway for months.

“We want to make sure” that achievable plans can be put into place before they are announced, Coles Hull said. “These things take time.”

Despite the plans not being finished, construction is occurring at the mall.

Inside, a wall will be erected on the west side to close off parts of the mall that are empty and/or undergoing construction, Coles Hull said.

“The construction site will be (kept) very clean and safe for shoppers” as work proceeds, she said.

No timetable to finish redeveloping the mall has been given, she added.


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