Friday, February 20, 2004

Revamped mall lands 3 tenants



By Randy Tucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Apparel retailers Guess, Charlotte Russe and Forever 21 are among the first new tenants to sign on at Cincinnati Mills, according to its owner, The Mills Corp.

The revamped Forest Fair Mall - a hybrid retail and entertainment complex that will feature nearly 200 outlet stores and specialty shops - opens Aug. 19.

"In addition to those, we're still in the process of finalizing a lot of leases," said David Douglass, director of corporate communications for Arlington, Va.-based Mills.

The 1.5-million-square-foot, two-story center - located off Interstate 275 at Winton Road at the border of Fairfield and Forest Park - also will introduce two new retail concepts to Greater Cincinnati that will help promote the shopping center as a family destination, Douglass said.

"Cincinnati is a very family-oriented community, and we're trying very hard to create an environment for the whole family to enjoy," he said.

To that end, Mills will open "PBS Kids Backyard" - a partnership between the mall and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting - and "A Place to Grow" - named after Stephanie Bloom's illustrated children's book - in the commons area of the cavernous shopping center.

While these areas won't be mistaken for storefronts, they are expected to draw crowds of shoppers, especially when the shopping center opens during the back-to-school shopping season.

"The ideal time to open a mall is at the back-to-school season, and this will give our retailers a chance to strike out at a very hot time," Douglass said.

Mills has been working to reshape the long-struggling shopping center since acquiring it from Gator Forest Partners for $69.4 million in September 2002.

Mills plans to transform the mall into one with individually themed "neighborhoods" for shopping, dining and entertainment that would compliment the anchor stores already in place, including Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, Kohl's and Burlington Coat Factory.

"This mall has had its difficulties in the past," said Douglass, referring to its history of cost overruns and high vacancy rates.

The mall - which opened in March 1989 - saw occupancy drop to as low as 56 percent by the summer of 1991. By the summer of 2002, the mall was about three-quarters leased.

In addition to off-price retail offerings, the typical mix at Mills properties includes large-scale entertainment attractions, including NASCAR SpeedParks, with racing tracks for electric and gas-powered cars; ESPN X Games Skateparks for skateboarding and in-line skating; multiplex movie theaters; miniature golf courses; and game arcades.

Although The Mills has yet to announce any of its entertainment venues, Douglass indicated it's just a matter of time before it does.

"If you look at a typical landmark Mills property, we are focused very much on integrating entertainment with retail," he said. "I don't expect Cincinnati Mills to be any different."

E-mail rtucker@enquirer.com




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