Revitalizing Leigh Mall isn’t just about the mall itself. It’s also about sprucing up the entire retail corridor, Hull Group Managing Principal James Hull said Monday.
Making the entire area look attractive and prosperous will bring people into both the mall and the entire area, he said.
The Hull Group bought the beleaguered shopping mall, built in the 1970s, in 2019 at auction. Efforts to revitalize it by turning it into a more modern, outward-facing shopping complex are underway, with the Hull Group estimating it will spend as much as $20 million on the project.
Hull, speaking during an informal briefing at City Hall, said that Leigh Mall is the gateway to the entire Highway 45 corridor, and it is vital to make it look sharp and modern.
“Having this property that looks and feels the right way sets a psychological tone in the region,” he said. “When we bought it, it was a failed property. We think very highly of this property, and this is a great opportunity to succeed.”
Getting a few visibly successful nationally branded tenants will drive more businesses to locate at the mall, he said.
“Tenants are attracted to a property that looks and feels a certain way,” he said. “If we maintain high standards, and they know they’re not going to denigrate their brand, then they are much more likely to select Columbus than a property that doesn’t have tenants that are as good.”
Existing national tenants on sites surrounding Leigh Mall are already helping with that, he said.
“You’ve got the (Ross Dress for Less), the Ulta, the Five Below that’s coming,” he said. “That puts (the Leigh Mall site) in a good position.”
Hull said his company also is interested in the success of other properties up the Highway 45 corridor from the mall to the Malco Theater area, including how they present themselves.
“We should be jawboning people up the corridor that don’t have a first-class presentation,” he said. “We have an interest in everything on that corridor, how it looks and how it feels. We need to work with that corridor in mind, because that’s how we attract other tenants. … It all feeds off itself.”
He said Columbus’ retail corridor is comparatively short.
“It’s maybe a mile and a quarter, mile and a half,” Hull said. “Many communities would have two and a half to three miles. Critical mass is very important, and it’s a blessing to have all our retail all together. If we can make it all look and feel a certain way, then it attracts investment.”
Hull said he hopes to develop outparcels on the mall property and eventually tie everything together with the shopping center to the north.
“We plan on four outparcels, and we already have the Hardee’s and the bank,” he said. “With the transition to the Ross center, we need to get it all together where it all plays as one big center.”
The Hull Group is working now on getting permits and testing for things like asbestos remediation, Hull said, but visible work will begin later this year.
Hull Group Vice President for Government Relations John Mulherin said work will proceed in phases.
“The first phase is the transformation of flipping it inside out,” he said. “The facades, the roof and all that will be done. The third phase is the roof, but once those parapet walls and those facades start going up we’ll do the roof simultaneously (with the first phase). The second phase is backfilling those tenants. That is market-driven.”
Once it becomes obvious the property is viable, interest in the outparcels will pick up, Mulherin said.
“It’s great dirt, it’s a gateway and a good entrance to the community,” he said. “I think once we make the improvements you’ll see that demand continue to grow and it’ll fill up.”
Mayor Keith Gaskin cited the success of Ross Dress for Less at the adjacent shopping center as a bellwether for the mall.
“I went out to their grand opening on Saturday to cut the ribbon,” he said. “They told me on Friday they had a soft opening. There were five other Rosses opening around the country, and Columbus was the most successful in the country. It was even larger than the one in California. That tells me Columbus is a great location for retail.
“When I was in Starkville recently, a lot of my old friends at Mississippi State told me they still drive to Columbus to find good places to shop,” Gaskin added. “So Columbus has great potential.”
Brian Jones is the local government reporter for Columbus and Lowndes County.