Chapel Hill Mall operator Mike Kohan said Monday he's open to just about any idea to ink new tenants at the Akron mall, including a tattoo parlor.
In a phone interview, Kohan said his main concern for the mall is generating traffic, and he'd like to get local shops involved. "I'm trying to get any tenant that will create traffic in the mall," he said. "It doesn't have to be retail."
Just hours before, local leaders concerned about Chapel Hill suffering a fate similar to Rolling Acres Mall discussed options for the troubled retail center in a conference call.
Last week, news stories about the mall being issued an electricity shut-off notice fueled speculation that the mall was in imminent danger. The owner, Kohan Retail Investment Group, caught up on its bill, but worries remain about the mall’s future.
Jason Dodson, chief of staff for Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro, said Monday that the chief concern of participants in the call was how to avoid another Rolling Acres tragedy. In that case, the mall built in 1975 started a steep decline in the 1990s and the building deteriorated for years after it was closed in 2008.
“[We] tried to talk through some strategies and an approach to prevent at Chapel Hill what happened at Rolling Acres,” Dodson said.
There are differences between the two Akron malls.
Chapel Hill remains current on its property taxes, which run about $300,000 per year. Its access to major thoroughfares is better than Rolling Acres’ was. Most important, the area around the mall continues to support a robust retail environment.
“There is a thriving corridor there,” Dodson said.
Target, Staples, Home Depot, Best Buy, Giant Eagle, several chain restaurants and the recently opened Ollie’s Bargain Outlet occupy retail space along nearby Howe Avenue.
Dodson said officials from Akron, Cuyahoga Falls and Tallmadge joined the county in the call and discussed future options.
“The leaders have looked at examples from across the country,” Dodson said. “We need to be proactive and engaged.”
In recent years, Chapel Hill has lost anchor stores Macy’s and Sears. More recently, traffic-generator Victoria’s Secret decided to leave, sending a mailer to frequent customers about its departure.
The last anchor, J.C. Penney, remains and has survived store cuts by its parent company this year and last. But many of the smaller retail establishments have departed and anecdotal reports say foot traffic is often sparse.
Kohan said he is looking at several options to attract more customers.
"We have great ideas, but I cannot disclose them at this point," he said. "We are thinking about multipurpose office, entertainment, some residential at some point — but not all of it, just some residential."
Dodson said leaders in the community hope to contact Kohan to inquire about his strategy.
“We intend to reach out here in the near future to the owner,” Dodson said.
Officials have been aware of the mall’s struggles and have discussed it before, he said.
“It’s by no means the first call the entities have had together about Chapel Hill,” Dodson said. “It’s not as though the article about their electric bill not being paid is the first sign.”
Key on the minds of officials is having a plan in place if conditions at the mall continue to deteriorate.
“We have a completely different set of leaders involved than [there] were … 15 years ago,” Dodson said. “We had to get the leaders on the phone in order to chart the course.”
Dodson said it’s too early to talk about specifics of a post-mall plan.
“It’s premature to be speculating about what we could be doing,” he said.
But the primary hope is to avoid the blight that Rolling Acres became. He said that if the owner was behind on his taxes, the county would be able to take more substantive action such as moving toward foreclosure to gain possession or sell the property.
“If the property taxes were delinquent,” he said, “we’d be having a different conversation.”
Dodson said more conference calls will be coming.
“The parties do plan to continue to work together,” he said. “We don’t want to see Rolling Acres happen again.”
Kohan, for his part, is open to ideas.
"I wouldn't mind having a tattoo place at the mall," he said.
Alan Ashworth can be reached at 330-996-3859 or contact him by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @newsalanbeaconjournal.