Chapel Hill Mall has a new owner.
The mall had been owned by U.S. Bank after previous owner CBL & Associates Properties gave the property back to the bank in 2014 to avoid foreclosure.
Mike Kohan, owner of Kohan Retail Investment Group of Great Neck, N.Y., on Friday confirmed that he is the new owner of the mall on Brittain Road in Akron.
Kohan, 51, whose full name is Mehren Kohansieh, confirmed that he purchased the mall from U.S. Bank for $8.6 million. The sale closed on Thursday, Kohan said in a phone interview.
Summit County officials said on Friday they didn’t have official records yet of the property transfer.
Kohan said he was among several bidders for the mall from the bank and had been looking at it for about six months. He estimates he has made three trips to Akron to see the mall.
His business specializes in buying distressed malls, sometimes with mixed results and problems with municipalities for upkeep of the properties.
“I buy these types of malls and try to revitalize them, bringing in more tenants and bringing in more anchors,” he said. “Macy’s unfortunately left, and it just put a big hole in the mall. Now, I’m trying to figure out what anchor will fit. We are aggressively approaching anchor tenants to fill that space.”
Kohan acknowledged the lack of national retailers, several of which have left the mall in recent years, including Old Navy and Aeropostale. The mall’s occupancy rate is about 75 percent, Kohan said, which he doesn’t consider good.
Akron ‘a young city’
But he said a good sign is the addition of new national retailers, such as Party City, which moved from Howe Avenue to the mall earlier this year, and Rainbow, a women’s retailer. Sephora also recently opened within J.C. Penney.
“That gives me the best feeling ... that’s big,” he said.
Kohan said what he liked about Akron is “it’s a young city. There are youngsters all over. When you have a young crowd in town, there’s a lot of hope you can revitalize the mall. Youngsters usually buy stuff. When the crowd is older and more tired, it’s much more challenging to bring the mall back.”
Kohan said he was aware of the mall’s youth policy, which requires people under 18 to be accompanied by an adult, and safety concerns after a man was stabbed to death following a fight last year.
The mall instituted the youth policy in 2008 after mall officials were noticing more problems with hundreds of unsupervised youth, and police have assured the community the two men involved in the fatal stabbing last August knew each other, and the stabbing didn’t reflect larger crime issues at the mall.
Security and safety of shoppers will be a priority, Kohan said. He also said after some increased security, he could see loosening the youth restriction, if it is safe. But he also acknowledged that he’s got 100 acres with the parking lot, a large space to secure.
Chapel Hill Operations Manager Fred Salzwimmer confirmed Kohan took ownership of the mall on Thursday. McKinley Inc. had been managing the mall for U.S. Bank.
Salzwimmer said he thinks Kohan will be able to turn the mall around.
“I’m excited about it. I think from talking to Mike and going over some things, he’s got a positive attitude and he’s got things in the making,” Salzwimmer said.
City of Akron spokeswoman Christine Curry said city officials were not aware of the mall’s official purchase but knew there were potential buyers looking at the mall.
With the Chapel Hill Mall purchase, Kohan’s company now owns 17 malls around the country and has one more under contract.
‘Planning to stay on’
News stories about some of Kohan’s other properties show past problems between the businessman and some city officials, who have battled him to shutter properties they say he has not kept up.
When asked about the controversies, Kohan said: “The malls I buy are usually problematic buys, malls that have issues and have challenges. I’m walking into sometimes a war zone ... I’m not perfect, and I definitely have made mistakes in my business.”
Kohan said there have been times when he’s bought properties that are too far away from being revitalized and “unfortunately it got worse and worse.” But he said he also has success stories, in addition to the problems when he has “lost money and learned the hard way.”
Kohan said he is planning on keeping Chapel Hill as a long-term property “because we have a lot of work to do.”
“I’m not anticipating getting out of the project too soon. I’m planning to stay on it. When it’s stabilized, that’s a different story,” he said.
He said he plans on investing money into the mall, and if he doesn’t have the money, he will borrow it.
“My commitment will be to create an atmosphere that is going to be a draw to attract people,” he said. “I have a lot of plans for it. I won’t say all of my plans will be implemented, but I certainly will be working to make it a destination for youngsters, a destination for entertainment and a destination for some retailers that the town doesn’t have.”
Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/betty