By ALAN J. ORTBALS
Work continues on the restructuring of the Alton Square Mall. The shopping center, which was originally developed in 1979, was acquired by Hull Property Group, a Georgia-based retail real estate company, in 2015. Hull specializes in renovating and revitalizing declining regional malls and began work on the Alton mall last year.
As has been the case with many regional malls, the Alton shopping center lost some of its anchor tenants and suffered from a 58 percent vacancy rate. Originally built at 773,000 square feet on 61 acres, Hull is downsizing and creating more strip center space. Demolition of the 180,000-square-foot Macy’s store space has been completed and a new entrance created. All second-floor tenants are being relocated to the first floor and the opening between the floors closed, entirely separating the first floor from the second. The second-floor space will be opened up to Alby St. creating ground-level strip center space available for new tenants.
The city created a TIF district to support the project in addition to an enterprise zone and a special business district that generates an additional 1-cent sales tax to assist in the redevelopment effort.
Down Homer Adams Parkway, the city owns 38 acres in front of the new Amtrak station and multimodal facility. The city is seeking developers for a destination or experiential retail project. No economic development incentive districts currently exist on the site, which is called Wadlow Town Center, but Greg Caffey, the city’s director of development and housing, said those could be created based on the type of development proposed.
Downtown, big things are brewing as local attorney and philanthropist, John Simmons, has purchased several vacant buildings including the Grand Theater, Stratford Hotel and YMCA. Caffey said Simmons is currently working on a development plan to reutilize the three historic properties.
“There is a lot of public optimism about the local economy here,” Caffey said. “Our retail numbers are still very strong. Several of our big box retailers and national retail chains are among regional and national sales leaders. And, we’re starting to see an influx of investment from outside the area which is always a positive sign and that’s very encouraging.”