Retail spaces inside Leigh Mall are some of the vacancies The Retail Coach was hired by Columbus late last year to recruit tenants to fill. Councilmen will hear Tuesday from a Retail Coach representative about where the city is in that process. Photo by: Amanda Lien/Dispatch Staff
March 19, 2019 10:33:48 AM
Columbus councilmen will hear an update this evening on retail recruitment efforts in the city.
Caroline Hearnsberger, a retail recruitment specialist with The Retail Coach of Tupelo, said her report will partially focus on foundational data, such as demographics, the firm can use to attract new retailers. The council meets at 5 p.m. in the Municipal Complex.
The city hired The Retail Coach in late 2018 to a one-year contract for $35,000 to identify the best uses for vacant properties and under-utilized retail corridors, recruit businesses to locate to the city and bolster existing, particularly locally owned, businesses. For the previous 10 years, Columbus had paid the Golden Triangle Development LINK $100,000 for economic development services -- including retail recruitment -- but the council discontinued that relationship in October.
"The first phase of any retail recruitment project that we do is to come in and analyze the market and pull some figures," Hearnsberger said.
Hearnsberger has also been speaking with retailers interested in several vacant or soon-to-be vacant retail spaces, such as the old Kmart space on Highway 45, the JCPenney anchor space in the Leigh Mall and the Office Depot space on Old Aberdeen Road, which has not yet been vacated. She said there are local, regional and national retailers interested in those storefronts.
"Even as late as Friday evening, I was on the phone with a retailer that is, and remains, very interested in the Office Depot space," she said. "There is so much interest in that space, and in the Kmart and JCPenney spaces as well."
Hearnsberger will also update councilmen about the projected future of Leigh Mall, which has been in decline in recent years and changed management companies in late 2018. Not only are tenants leaving, but the mall's roof and parts of the parking lot are in disrepair. Since 2017, JCPenney, along with Radio Shack, Reed's Jewelry, Sears Hometown Store, The Cookie Store, Payless ShoeSource and Kirkland's have all closed.
"I know it's frustrating when you hear about businesses closing but ... I think this is an exciting time for retail in Columbus," she said. "(The Retail Coach) has done work all over the country and I can say this is in line with what we see in similar markets."
Representatives with new Leigh Mall manager Jones Lange LaSalle Americas (JLL) have said very little about the company's future plans for the struggling Highway 45 retail center. However, Hearnsberger told The Dispatch that she has "dates on a calendar" to meet with some developers interested in purchasing the mall, which is currently assessed at $12.1 million, according to the Lowndes County Tax Assessor's Office.
"I feel very positive about the direction the mall is heading," she said. "I think some great things are going to happen there from the next 12 to 18 months."
One challenge for Columbus, Hearnsberger noted, is getting potential tenants and land owners on the same page, especially when it comes to tenants leasing large spaces or multiple tenants co-leasing space in the same building.
"We may find a retailer that's super interested, but then they go to the landlord or leasing agent and make a couple requests for changes to the property and the landlord isn't able to meet those requests," she said. "So they go somewhere else. It depends on which companies we get to the table."
Columbus Chief Operations Officer David Armstrong, who has worked with Hearnsberger alongside Columbus Mayor Robert Smith and Public Information Officer Joe Dillon, said he has "high hopes" for the city's retail future.
"We're looking forward to hearing from (Hearnsberger) at the meeting," he said. "We have high hopes that the work (The Retail Coach) is doing will have a significant impact."
Smith said he has also been happy with the results The Retail Coach has shown him thus far.
"I think it's going to be great," he said. "I've been satisfied so far with what they're doing. I'm happy with the progress."
How to go
■ WHAT: Columbus City Council regular meeting
■ WHEN: Tonight, 5 p.m.
■ WHERE: Columbus Municipal Complex
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