Development of former Cincinnati Mall still in ‘holding pattern’

Development of the former Cincinnati Mall, one of the largest enclosed retail properties in the region with approximately 1.5 million-square-feet of mostly empty space, continues to sit in a “holding pattern” with talks about a sale to a new buyer yet to come to fruition, said Forest Park Economic Development Director Paul Brehm.

Now known as Forest Fair Village, the mall so large that it straddles both Fairfield and Forest Park, was said earlier this year to be in talks to be sold to a California group, according to Brehm.

However, the deal has not moved forward as of yet, leaving the fate of the property with Interstate 275 visibility still in question.

“The mall is currently not under contract to be sold to anyone,” said Attorney David Blessing, which represents property owner Cincinnati Holding Co.

New York-based Cincinnati Holding is a company that was formed to own and operate the mall, and purchased the site in 2010, Blessing said.

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The redevelopment of the depressed mall is a responsibility of the private property owner, Brehm, of Forest Park, said. However, the local governments are willing to work with the existing owner or a new owner to help bring new investment, he said.

“We’re still hopeful a sale might be forthcoming,” Brehm said.

“We would love to see something get started because I think both communities are seeing a resurgence in development over the past year,” he said. “We’d like to take advantage of that momentum and see something happen at this mall.”

Also unclear is the status of one of Forest Fair Village’s key anchor tenants, Bass Pro Shops.

Other anchor tenants include Kohl’s and Babies“R”Us.

Customer reaction in 2013 when the outdoor goods retailer Bass Pro first announced plans to build a new West Chester Twp. store was “that will do it for Cincinnati Mall.”

Originally, plans were to open the new 150,000-square-foot Bass Pro store this year, but the opening was delayed until 2016 and the size of the store has been reduced. Plans are to close the existing Forest Fair Village location and move employees to West Chester when the new store opens on Allen Road, according to Springfield, Mo.-based Bass Pro.

But the Journal-News has confirmed last week that construction on the new West Chester store has yet to start.

“We are currently in development planning with this project and a specific timeframe has not been finalized. We will share more details as plans progress,” said Jack Wlezien, director of communications for Bass Pro Group, in an email.

While Bass Pro continues planning for the project, competitor Cabela’s Inc. built and opened a new West Chester Twp. store this year on Liberty Way.

Meanwhile, Forest Park is anxious to see a development plan for the approximately 80-acre Forest Fair mall property, Brehm said. The turnaround has been slow for several reasons, he said.

“There’s the debt, there’s the market forces, there’s the cost of redevelopment, there’s probably not the demand for retail space that there was 10, 15 years ago,” he said. “A lot of that’s coming together for a perfect storm for this facility.”

Forest Park and Fairfield officials agree a mixed use development with retail as well as office, entertainment and hotel components would be a better fit for Forest Fair.

“While all parties believe a mixed use re-development makes the most sense, none of the public entities are in an ownership position,” said Tim Bachman, director of development for Fairfield. “We all eagerly await the owner of the property’s decision as to the next steps to develop or re-position the mall.”

“We stand ready to assist the owner when/if a project is advanced that is in the best interest of the City of Fairfield and our partners,” Bachman said.

In its 25-year history, the mall has had at least six owners. The current owner could not be reached for comment by deadline.

Former property general manager Karla Ellsworth previously announced in 2011 plans to redevelop the mall as a mix-used family attraction. Talks were to bring a hotel, ice arena and amusement center to the shopping center.

That never happened and problems with delinquent taxes — millions in delinquent property taxes are owed to county governments — and payments on a bond issued a decade ago under a previous owner are holding up the mall’s development, Ellsworth previously told this newspaper.

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