The Southern Park Mall has taken some hits lately. Sears has closed and Dillard’s will shut down in May. But the CEO of the company that owns the mall was in Boardman on Wednesday, and what he had to say was encouraging for the mall’s future.
There was a steady flow of traffic Thursday afternoon in and out of the mall, one day after Washington Prime Group CEO Lou Conforti visited with promises to renovate it.
“He was very blunt,” said Boardman Township Administrator Jason Loree. “It’s time to give that place the attention it deserves.”
Loree was among those who met with Conforti and members of his staff representing sales, marketing, leasing and construction.
“They were genuinely ready to go. They’re going to be coming back here in the next couple weeks as well, to kind of confirm some plans and they want to meet with local labor. So they really see big things happening for the mall,” Loree said.
Conforti released a statement on Thursday:
Our promise is that we will make Southern Park Mall as dynamic as ever and maintain its longstanding presence as a gathering place to shop, play, eat and drink. We are in active planning and negotiations for redevelopment alternatives, including new entertainment and dining options, as well as local, regional and national tenancy, which provides differentiated goods and services.”
“Obviously, we are aware and they are aware, keenly, that the market’s changed and they look at the mall as, ‘How do we get people to that destination and while they’re there, how do you keep them engaged?'” Loree said.
He said Conforti asked about getting a zone change to develop what are now parking lots.
“Wants to make that a site where there’s some entertainment, some community feel to it and that was exciting to hear.”
Indoor bocce courts and horseshoe pits built around a local distillery serving locally-brewed draft beers were mentioned.
A company spokesperson said they’re “actively pursuing several interior and exterior updates, including new lighting, updated entranceways, new community areas, increased curb appeal, new digital signage and more.”
“We have a certain standard in Boardman. We want to maintain it or make better. So I think that got through and I think they’re genuinely excited about making that mall just a destination point,” Loree said.
He also said it’s rare for a CEO to request a meeting with the township.
“To see the CEO of a company come in and actually ask for the meeting, I was enthusiastic because that doesn’t often happen.”
The Washington Prime Group spokesperson called the company and Boardman trustees “great partners.” She said the company appreciates the trustees’ discretion in handling sensitive information — that ideas are often speculative and might not come to fruition.
Next year will be the 50th anniversary of the Southern Park Mall. The spokesperson said efforts to spruce up the mall will coincide with that anniversary.