Interior renovations to the old Leigh Mall are now underway, according to Hull Property Group Vice President of Government Relations John Mulherin.
Mulherin told The Dispatch demolition work to the mall at 1404 Old Aberdeen Road began on Oct. 24, and the company is currently demolishing the interior of five empty spaces, including the old JCPenney, the Zales Jewelry Store and the Books-A-Million, to name a few. It is also demolishing the old Sears Auto Center on the southwest corner of the lot.
“We’re just starting the first phase of the promised plan, which is the demolition phase,” Mulherin said. “We will be taking down the former Sears auto building; the interior demo for that has been completed and we should start the actual (exterior) demo this week. We are also in the mall proper in the vacant spaces, and we’re doing the interior demolition to those currently.”
Mulherin said the former Sears building is not currently an optimal location for new tenants, hence why the company decided to tear it down and build something new that can suit either one or several new tenants.
“The location of that building is not optimal and the size of the building is not optimal,” he said. “If you tried to backfill it with another tenant, it would be very difficult to do so. So in our experience, you’re better off to go ahead and demolish the building itself, and then come back with something new. You can right size it. You can position it correctly.”
Mulherin explained that once the holiday season ends, Hull will start renovating areas of the mall with current tenants to build out the exterior-facing shopping center the project is shooting for. Once that is complete, it will update the parking lot and landscaping around the property. He expects the buildout and re-roofing of the building to take a year to finish.
Georgia-based Hull Property Group purchased the mall for $3.5 million via online auction in October 2019 and obtained a $3.1 million economic incentive package from the city and county in May 2022 to start the renovation project.
Mulherin previously told The Dispatch the money would be needed to recover the approximately $3.125 million cost of engineering work to “flip the building inside-out” and demolish the Sears Automotive building.
Golden Triangle Development LINK Chief Executive Officer Joe Max Higgins explained that per the arrangement, Hull will pay taxes on the mall at its current assessed value for 15 years. The ad valorem value of any additions made will be repaid to the company, along with 75 percent of the net sales tax collected on non-grocery sales. If a grocery store is located there, 50 percent of the sales tax generated by grocery sales will return to the company. The incentives will not include ad valorem tax collections for schools.
“It’s all going to be driven by customers they (Hull) get coming in and the sales tax collections,” Higgins said.
Mulherin also noted that despite the rising costs of materials and labor, the expected $20 million the company budgeted for completing the entire project has not changed.
Higgins also noted the shopping center is located in “the heartbeat” of the city.
“This is still the most valuable piece of real estate in Lowndes County,” he said. “It’s several acres. Drop a bomb there and you’re going to wipe the town out; geographically, it is in a good location.”
H&R Dirt Work, based out of Caledonia, is completing the demolition work for Hull. Owner and General Contractor Hunter Riley told The Dispatch he and his company hope to finish demolishing the vacant building by Thanksgiving. Still, he thinks it will be a few years before tenants begin calling the new shopping center home.
“I think they got some more plans as far as what other stuff they’re going to do, but I’m thinking maybe a couple of years or so before they start seeing some of their stores come in,” Riley said.
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