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Published: 5/24/2008

Last stores to exit mall by June 30

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
A developer plans to redevelop the Southwyck site into stores, offices, and residential space. A developer plans to redevelop the Southwyck site into stores, offices, and residential space.
KING / BLADE Enlarge

The electronic sign along the busy Reynolds Road outside the once-popular Southwyck Shopping Center was dim yesterday. Inside the mall, the last holdouts were packing up shop.

Officials announced yesterday that the mall would close June 30.

Tonya Reditt, a frequent shopper at the nearly empty mall, which has just eight stores and a working carousel open, called its downward spiral a shame.

"I like the mall. I miss the mall," Ms. Reditt, 40, said before venturing to check out the going-out-of-business sales. "I don't want them to shut it down. I think that it could be popular again."

Toledo City Councilman D. Michael Collins said the eight remaining vendors at the nearly 36-year-old mall at 2040 South Reynolds Rd. were told the complex would be shut on June 30.

"I am not surprised," said Mr. Collins, whose council district includes the mall. "The remaining businesses that are there certainly cannot provide for the mall owner enough revenue for the energy costs to keep the mall open."

Kenneth C. Baker, an attorney with Eastman & Smith Ltd., which represents the mall, did not return phone calls seeking comment yesterday.

Shoppers were quickly emptying the Kids Foot Locker store of its merchandise, which was marked 70 percent off.

Across the corridor, Champs Sports was nearly empty.

A salesman had posted a sign offering to sell the store's fixtures.

Clerks at both stores declined comment and directed questions to their corporate offices, which did not return phone calls.

The city of Toledo threatened to shut the mall earlier this month because of suspected asbestos contamination found by inspectors in the former Montgomery Ward building, inadequate fire sprinklers, and other problems.

Inspectors discovered black mold and said airborne asbestos could have escaped from the shuttered Montgomery Ward store into the public areas.

Chris Zervos, the city's commissioner of building inspection, on May 8 said shoppers and employees should stay away from Southwyck because of the contamination that may be airborne.

Within days, workmen inside the mall nailed barricades to the wall separating Montgomery Ward and the concourse.

The mall's management hired a third-party inspector, who reported there was no "visible evidence" of mold growth or airborne asbestos.

The city had set a June 2 deadline for the mall's owners to address fire-safety requirements in the Montgomery Ward and the former Dillard's stores.

Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner yesterday said he had not seen a reported letter from the mall management telling its tenants to vacate.

Mr. Finkbeiner said developer Larry Dillin's plan to buy and redevelop the site would be unaffected by the closing.

Mr. Dillin earlier this month said he would continue efforts to buy the mall and market the project at a shopping center convention in Las Vegas.

He could not be reached for comment last night.

Mr. Dillin's previously announced redevelopment plan would eliminate much of the mall.

In its place would be a mixed-use development of stores, offices, and residential space much like Mr. Dillin's Levis Commons project in Perrysburg, complete with a fountain, pavilion, and a clock tower.

Part of the holdup, Mr. Finkbeiner said, has been acquiring the property.

Tom Morgan of Dreiseszun & Morgan, managing partner for the mall ownership group, owns half the mall, not including the closed Dillard's store.

Dillard's Inc. of Little Rock owns the other half of the mall and the former Montgomery Ward anchor building.

Dillard's was the remaining anchor at the 35-year-old mall.

The Dillard's store and its adjacent parking lot are owned by shopping-center operator M.G. "Buddy" Herring, Jr., president and chief executive of the M.G. Herring Group, Dallas.

Shopper Heather Zuccarell, 34, who was unaware the Southwyck would be closed, said she favors enclosed malls rather than the outdoor pedestrian layout.

"I think it's pathetic," Ms. Zuccarell said of Southwyck's closing. "I grew up near North Towne [Square] Mall and that is a ghost town now."

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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