Towne Mall is a languishing shopping center along Ohio State Route 122 near Interstate 75 in Franklin Township east of Middletown, Ohio. Opened in 1977 with 465,451 square-feet on a 56.3 acre tract,1 5 the mall was anchored with Sear’s, Elder-Beerman and McAlpin’s and 50 inline stores. In 1996, Middletown annexed the land the mall resided on.
Plans were floated in 2007 to redevelop Towne Mall as an open-air “lifestyle center.”1 CBL & Associates of Chattanooga, Tennessee, the owner of the mall, had sought funding from Middletown and Warren County, which would cost $26 million and would require the demolition of the existing concourse, while the anchors would be remodeled and the exteriors refreshened.
The proposal, while well received, tumbled into financial hurdles.2 The county balked at a request for $6 million in tax breaks and other incentives for the renovation, stating that those incentives are not offered for retail-oriented projects.
“I still think this is going to be a tough sell because the (Warren) County Commissioners have never incentivized retail projects. We doubt that (CBL will) get the (commissioner’s) approval, but they certainly should get a chance to make their case.”
-Kimm Coyner, Warren County Economic Development Director 2
Due to financial constraints, and the lack of incentives, the open-air concept proposal was postponed indefinitely.1 3
A delegation composed of local government and business leaders traveled to Las Vegas, Nevada in May 2008 to meet with CBL at an International Council of Shopping Center’s convention.1 At the time, leaders stressed the redevelopment of the mall and stated that a redevelopment plan would be made available within 30 days.
In 2009, Towne Mall was listed as a “dead mall,” along with 84 other properties across the United States by Green Street Advisors.1 The company used a database of 1,032 malls to measure sales per square foot, and noted that Towne had sales $207 per square foot, giving it the distinction of either being a dying or a failed mall. CBL disagreed with the assessment, stating that other “quantitative and qualitative factors go into evaluating a mall.”
On July 21, the Middletown Economic Development Department shared three concepts for the redevelopment of Towne Mall.5 Using the city’s master plan for the mall, known as Renaissance West, and working with CBL and the two remaining anchor tenants, the department was able to develop possible development plans for the site. The plans were prepared as part of a $13,000 study funded by the city. While the proposals were well received, many – including city councilmembers, were wary of the city becoming involved in the project due to the failure of the City Centre Mall – of which the city had to borrow $12 million to tear down.
Proposal one called for the retention of one anchor, with new outlot developments and stores, a new central park and plaza, ringed by multipurpose recreational paths.
Proposal two called for the tear down of Towne Mall and the creation of a new urbanist town center with development facing interconnected streets. The pedestrian-friendly development would include a mix of retail, restaurant and office space, with upper-level residential condominiums and apartments, along with a civic or community center.
Proposal three called for the redevelopment of Towne Mall into a mixed-use center. Two of the four sections of the proposal called for medium- and large-retail buildings with sit-down restaurants on outlots, with another section being reserved for office use and conference/hotel development. The fourth section would include multi-family housing.
In early 2011, rumors surfaced that CBL was soliciting proposals for a potential sale of the mall, but those rumors were denied.4 Several outparcels of the mall, however, are managed by other companies.