Forest Fair Mall is a mostly vacant shopping center in Fairfield, Ohio, a northern suburb of Cincinnati.

Construction began on the 1.5-million square-foot Forest Fair Mall in 1986 by L.J. Hooker.11 The east wing of the mall was completed in July 1988, featuring Bigg’s hypermarket and value-oriented tenants. Complications with leasing delayed the opening of the western “fashion” wing with upscale tenants, with that concourse opening in March 1989. Upon completion, Forest Fair boasted 200 stores and four anchors, including Parisian, Elder-Beerman, Bonwit Teller, Bigg’s and B. Altman.3

But construction costs exceeded $250 million and was $50 million over budget, leaving Hooker saddled with debt. In June, Forest Fair was offered for sale, and was followed up with bankruptcy protection in September by George Herseu, the Australian tycoon and owner of L.J. Hooker’s parent Hooker Corporation.3 7 11 The company claimed debts of $1.7 billion. Also filing were B. Altman and Bonwit Teller, two retailers that L.J. Hooker had purchased in mid 1987.11 Bonwit Teller closed in October 1990, followed by B. Altman and Sakowitz in November 1990.

In January 1991, L.J.’s seven lenders took over the mall’s operation as FFM Limited Partnership, but occupancy dipped to 56% by mid-year.11 In a rebranding effort, Forest Fair was renamed to the Malls at Forest Fair in May 1992 and the concourses were divided into four retail themes: fashion, lifestyle, value and entertainment.11 FFM spent $25 million in renovations and advertising for this effort.13 In August 1993, FFM spent $8 million to create the Festival at Forest Fair, a themed restaurant and bar district in the former Bonwit Teller anchor space. Kohl’s opened in the former B. Altman location in September 1994, and by that point, the mall occupancy rate had climbed to 75%.11

FEM Limited placed the Forest Fair Mall on the market in February 1995 11 and was purchased by Gator Forest Park Partners of Miami in 1996 for $18 million. Gator envisioned Forest Fair as a destination outlet mall 3 7 10 and pledged to invest $10 million into the mall over the next three years.11

But Forest Fair stagnated, and Parisian left the complex in June 1998.11 A first-run multiplex movie theater opened on the lower level in the food court shortly after, and in June 1999, construction began on the fourth free-standing restaurant in an outlot of the mall. Saks Off Fifth signed open as an anchor outlet store in August 2000, followed by Burlington Coat Factory in October and Bass Pro Shops in November. The tenants signed on as part of phase one of redevelopment of the mall’s roster.

In September 2001, the Wonderpark Family Fun Center, an indoor children’s amusement park, opened as part of phase two of the redevelopment. Wonderpark replaced Time Out, which was removed to make way for the movie theater.11 Two public parking garages were built in 2002.20

Cincinnati Mills

The Mills Corporation purchased Forest Fair Mall in 2002 for $69.4 million and began a $70 million renovation project in February 2003.2 3 4 10 21 The renovation project was aided by $19 million in tax increment financing for parking improvements.4 Forest Fair Mall was renamed Cincinnati Mills when it was rededicated on August 19, 2004.1 10

Cincinnati Mills featured three anchors that carried over from the previous owner, 145 tenants with two levels of stores, themed restaurants and nightclubs with a 93% occupancy. The Mills boasted that the mall would feature 200 retailers and 15 anchor stores at total build-out. Anchors included OFF 5th Saks Fifth Avenue Outlet, Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, Babies “R” Us and Kohl’s, and two movie theaters, one discount, the other first-run.2

The Mills Corporation considered selling its 42-mall portfolio in April 2006 as a result of financial difficulties and irregularities the company was facing.3 By July, Cincinnati Mills had shrunk to 115 tenants with 30 vacant storefronts 4 and was rated one of the weakest performers among Mill Corp.’s portfolio.5 Sales per square foot at Cincinnati Mills was less than half the average for most enclosed shopping centers in the United States.

On January 16, 2007, the Mills Corporation was acquired by Brookfield Asset Management, a Canadian Investment Company, and by Simon Property Group, for $1.6 billion.6 14 Mills was facing bankruptcy in the face of mounting losses and financial irregularities.6 By this point, Cincinnati Mills was down to 66% occupancy.8

The mall was a serious contender for IKEA in 2007, a Swedish home furnishings retailer, although the deal fell through in February when IKEA announced that it was locating in West Chester.7 In June 2008, Bigg’s closed its 245,000 square-foot hypermarket.9 The store had recently partitioned off sections of its store and attempted an outlet store concept in an attempt to raise profits at the store location. By September, only 56% of the mall was leased, which included 60% of the Mill’s 1.02 million square-feet of anchor space and 47% of the 434,626 square-feet of specialty store space.14 The shopping center was renamed to Cincinnati Mall as the naming rights to the shopping center was not included in the sale.15 Unfortunately, North Star became delinquent on property taxes and payments relating to  the construction of the parking garages from 2002.20

Cincinnati Mall

Cincinnati Mills was purchased by Cincinnati Holding Company LLC, a subsidiary of World Properties Inc. of New York for $4.7 million on March 4, 2009.19 In a move to restore the mall’s viability, Cincinnati Holding stated that it was seeking non-traditional tenants to fill the remaining vacant parcels. The center was also renamed Cincinnati Mall.

But the bleeding of tenants only accelerated. First-run movie theater Showcase Cinemas closed on February 28, 2010.16 17 In addition, the mall owed Forest Park $2.5 million for annual assessments, which were charged in lieu of taxes due to tax abatements that were given during the 2003 renovation.21 The mall also owed the Winton Woods City Schools Board of Education $200,000. In response, World Properties worked out a payment schedule with the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority to pay any late assessments and taxes owed to Forest Park and Winton Woods. It was noted by World Properties that North Star had little intention in paying taxes on the property, as they were uninterested in keeping the shopping center for very long.

On January 27, 2011, Karla Ellsworth, general manager of Cincinnati Mall, announced a vision for the ailing center.18 In it, the mall proposed a three-level, 170,000 square-foot Candlewood Suites, a 100,000 square-foot ice hockey arena, an indoor mountain bike park, a 76,000 square-foot agriculture museum and an indoor water park.22 The Candlewood Suites would be located at the former Steve and Barry’s, and contain 60 rooms.19 The ice hockey arena and water park would potentially fill the space of the Bigg’s hypermarket. The attractions would be located inside the 1.6 million square-foot mall, which could bring 2,000 jobs to the Fairfield region.18

In addition, Ellsworth stated that the mall was attempting to renew leases with its remaining anchor stores, and that the attractions would be completed within three years, dependent on financing and permits.18 But the mall had issues in obtaining a clear title to the Bigg’s hypermarket due to service payments that were owed on the property.23

In October 2013, Bass Pro Shops, one of the remaining anchors of Cincinnati Mall, announced that its store would close by 2015 in favor of a larger facility in West Chester.23 The new store, at Union Center off of Interstate 75, will feature 150,000 square-feet of retail with an Uncle Buck’s Fishbowl and Grill and a bowling alley.

Digest

  • Name: Forest Fair Mall, Cincinnati Mills, Cincinnati Mall
  • Location: Fairfield, Ohio
  • Years of Significance: 1986
  • Status: Active

Further Reading

  1. Forest Fair Mall at DeadMalls

Sources

  1. “New stores announced for Cincinnati Mills.” Cincinnati Mills 9 July 2004. 12 Nov. 2008.
  2. “Cincinnati Mills: One Year Later.” Fairfield Echo 5 Oct. 2005. 12 Nov. 2008 Article.
  3. Fasig, Lisa Biank. “Despite success, Cincinnati Mills may return to sale rack.” Cincinnati Business Courier 28 April 2006. 12 Nov. 2008 Article.
  4. Boyer, Mike. “Mall struggles to find niche.” Cincinnati Enquirer 12 July 2006. 12 Nov. 2008 Article.
  5. Boyer, Mike. “Cincy Mills among firm’s worst performers.” Cincinnati Enquirer 7 Dec. 2006. 12 Nov. 2008 Article.
  6. “Cincinnati Mills’ owner to be acquired.” Associated Press 17 Jan. 2007. 12 Nov. 2008 Article.
  7. Boyer, Mike. “Cincinnati Mills hopes sparked.” Cincinnati Enquirer 6 Feb. 2007. 12 Nov. 2008 Article.
  8. Boyer, Mike. “Can Cincinnati Mills work?” Cincinnati Enquirer 4 Feb. 2007. 12 Nov. 2008 Article.
  9. Boyer, Mike. “Bigg’s in Forest Park to close.” Cincinnati Enquirer 14 May 2008. 12 Nov. 2008 Article.
  10. Kiesewetter, Sue. “Mall’s new look holds surprises.” Cincinnati Enquirer 8 July 2004. 12 Nov. 2008.
  11. “Forest Fair Mall chronology.” Cincinnati Enquirer 29 Oct. 2000. 12 Nov. 2008 Article.
  12. Fasig, Lisa Biank. “Forest Fair: Mall on the Mend.” Cincinnati Enquirer 29 Oct. 2000. 12 Nov. 2008 Article.
  13. Kent, Jennifer. “Changes in Store – Forest Fair Mall Has New Name and New Direction.” Cincinnati Post 31 Aug. 1992. 13 Nov. 2008: 6B.
  14. Boyer, Mike. “Cincinnati Mills sold again.” Cincinnati Enquirer 2 Jan. 2009. 5 Jan. 2009 Article.
  15. “Cincinnati Mills now Cincinnati Mall.” Business Courier of Cincinnati 4 March 2009. 6 March 2009 Article.
  16. “Mall cinema shuts down.” Cincinnati Enquirer 2 March 2010. 2 March 2010 Article.
  17. “Area Showcase Cinemas closes.” Fairfield Echo 2 March 2010. 2 March 2010 Article.
  18. “Cincinnati Mall details vision.” Enquirer [Cincinnati] 27 Jan. 2011. 27 Jan. 2011. Article.
  19. Demeropolis, Tom. “Latest plan for Cincinnati Mall: ice rink, water park.” Business Courier [Cincinnati] 18 Jan. 2011. 27 Jan. 2011. Article.
  20. Baverman, Laura. “Cincinnati Mall announces redevelopment.” Enquirer [Cincinnati] 17 Jan. 2011. 27 Jan. 2011. Article.
  21. Dowdy, Rob. “Cincinnati Mall works on debt plan.” Enquirer [Cincinnati] 22 April 2010. 27 Jan. 2011. Article.
  22. Baverman, Laura. “Ambitious plans for Cincinnati Mall.” Enquirer [Cincinnati] 27 Jan. 2011. 28 Jan. 2011. Article.
  23. Mink, Dan. “Bass Pro Shops building new West Chester store, closing Forest Fair Mall.” WCPO [Cincinnati] 18 Oct. 2013. 21 Oct. 2013. Article.