Jim Boscov: Fairgrounds Square Mall can find a new, healthy future - 6/3/2019
There's something troubling happening in the shopping mall industry. When a shopping mall files for bankruptcy, there are some notorious bottom-feeders that buy them for pennies on the dollar.
Typically these companies are backed by hedge funds whose only interest is to squeeze every penny out of their “investment.”
Their business model is to fire almost everyone and make no improvements while they continue to collect rent from any unfortunate remaining tenants.
They bleed the property dry, and then after a few years, once they've made a profit on their original investment, they turn the keys back to their lender.
Here's the good news: Jim Hull of Hull Property Group is not one of those guys. He purchased the Fairgrounds Square Mall with his own money; there was no loan involved.
His intent was to clean up the mall and give it a new life. After purchasing the mall, he met with me and with others to get our ideas and suggestions.
No one had an instant solution, but we all agreed that once the property is cleaned up by getting rid of the unused space, other opportunities would present themselves.
We've seen other failed malls find healthy alternative uses with office space, restaurants, entertainment and even university buildings. It's no surprise that Hull doesn't have a ready plan to present.
Hull is ready to invest in the property and avoid the blight of a deteriorating mall. Now that the Penn Plaza shopping center has failed, it's even more important to keep the Fifth Street corridor from becoming an eyesore.
We have two sides — the municipality and the mall owner — that want to accomplish the same thing. That's tremendous. They're only fighting about which tax vehicle they should use.
If there's ever been an opportunity for negotiation, this is it.
In cases like this, blaming any one side seldom leads to a solution. Instead, the involvement of a third party such as the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance could be helpful.
Regardless of who steps in, this is an opportunity that shouldn't be missed.
Boscov's North is not owned by the mall, and despite the failure of the mall, the store continues to do well because of our loyal customers and dedicated co-workers. But we clearly are an interested party.
If this property is allowed to go through a normal and healthy transition, it will find a new life and remain an attractive and beneficial part of the community.
We have two parties that want the same thing. They just need someone to help them find a way to get there.