Middletown is looking to help the California investment group that owns the Towne Mall Galleria in developing a new master plan for the 43-year-old facility at the city’s front door off Interstate 75.
Last week, Middletown City Council approved an emergency ordinance to develop a plan and to partner with mall owner George Ragheb and the Warren County Port Authority to better utilize the 31-acre site.
City Manager Jim Palenick recommended council approve hiring Milwaukee, Wis.-based RINKA Architecture to provide a detailed, two-phase master redevelopment planning process for the redevelopment of the mall as a mixed-use town center.
Palenick said he worked with RINKA to redevelop the Racine, Wis. Mall and the company has also worked to develop the arena which is home to the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks and at other malls and venues.
While there have been new tenants and some redevelopment at the Towne Mall Galleria, most of its retail spaces and two former anchors, Elder-Beerman and Sears, are vacant.
The $93,000 contract for RINKA to develop a new master plan would be divided, with the city paying $49,000, Ragheb contributing $34,000 and the Warren County Port Authority contributing $10,000. The port could also provide financing, other incentive tools and expertise for possible sports and entertainment components to the plan, Palenick said.
A reimagined town center would include housing, entertainment and sports, dining, and mixed-use destination retail. The two-phased, master planning process is expected to take 13-18 weeks.
“This will allow us to get more investment over a faster timeframe,” Palenick said.
Palenick said some developers have made efforts to develop a plan over the past three years but failed in negotiating any site control with mall ownership.
Ragheb declined to comment on the project when contacted by the Journal-News.
Ragheb purchased the mall in 2012 from former owner CBL & Associates Properties. He has been working to bring in tenants such as Planet Fitness, Burlington, and Gabe’s as well as developing outlot sites for Aspen Dental, BW3, Sport Clips and GNC. The newest outlot business is Chipotle, which opened this year.
This is not the first time a “town center” concept/redevelopment has been explored for the local mall.
In January 2007, the previous mall owner, CBL & Associates Properties, together with consultant Incentis Group, appeared before Middletown City Council to present a proposed $26 million renovation to be called Middletown Village as an outdoor retail destination similar to Bridgewater Falls in Fairfield Twp.
The CBL group was hoping to fill a funding gap of about $6 million from Middletown and Warren County that was needed to begin the project. While the idea had promise, local elected officials balked at a sales tax incentive and property tax exemptions over 10 years because the return on investment was low for retail projects.