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Owners launch mall makeover
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Demolition continued Thursday at the former JCPenney store on the front of Liberty Fair Mall in Martinsville. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)

Friday, May 23, 2014

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Liberty Fair Mall’s transformation has begun although design plans are not yet finalized, according to a spokesman for the property’s owner.

The Hull Storey Gibson Companies recently announced plans to convert the 434,000-square-foot mall on Commonwealth Boulevard into a shopping center in which all stores open to the outside instead of an interior hall.

Demolition began in earnest on Wednesday as construction crews started razing the former JC’s 5-Star Outlet building, said Coles Hull, a marketing analyst for Hull Storey Gibson.

The outlet, which originally was a JCPenney department store and later a Penney’s outlet store, closed in December.

Hull said the empty building was “catty-cornered and stuck out” from the rest of the complex. Demolishing it, she said, will “help improve the overall visibility of the shopping center” and stores remaining there.

Another “big box”-type building will not be built in its place, Hull said. Plans call for the space to initially be used for parking although some of it could be used for smaller stores that eventually may locate at Liberty Fair, she said.

More demolition will occur on portions of the mall’s back side that, like the former outlet building, have been closed to the public, according to Hull.

The empty Sears building will remain standing in hopes that it will attract a tenant, Hull said.

Also, “there is a lot of room” in the back of the property where retail space could be developed for a large tenant or a few small tenants, she said.

Hull said she did not have further details of how the mall will be redeveloped — including what stores will be there, how stores will be arranged and lighting and landscaping changes — that will be part of final design plans.

Much of that will be determined by stores that Hull Storey Gibson recruits to Liberty Fair in the near future and their design and space needs, Hull said.

When the transformation is finished, the shopping center’s aesthetics “will be of a very high quality and welcoming,” she emphasized.

Leasing negotiations are underway with remaining retailers and potential new ones, Hull said, adding that her company hopes to be able to announce “the lineup of stores” for the redeveloped retail complex in a few weeks.

The intent is to have a mix of larger and smaller stores, Hull said. She could not comment on ongoing negotiations with retailers, she said.

She does not know of any existing tenants that plan to leave, she said.

But many stores have left in recent years.

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. All remain in — or have been relocated to — the mall’s west end near Belk.

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

Martinsville officials said they, like many other area residents, are anxiously awaiting the final design plans for Liberty Fair. They said they have seen no final plans yet.

City and Hull Storey Gibson officials have “had a couple of meetings where we sat around the table” and discussed ideas for redeveloping the mall, said City Manager Leon Towarnicki.

That was “shortly after they bought the property” in 2012, said Assistant City Manager/Community Development Director Wayne Knox. “We haven’t gotten into any real conversations with them” since, to his knowledge.

“They said they eventually would come and present an overall plan as to what they are going to do” to the mall, Knox said.

Towarnicki said all he knows is that when the project is finished, “there won’t be any covered interior space.”

Hull Storey Gibson will not reveal how much it plans to spend on the mall’s conversion because the company does not discuss finances, Hull said.

Based in Augusta, Ga., Hull Storey Gibson owns and operates 21 malls, 21 shopping centers and other retail properties throughout the Southeast, its website shows.


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