CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Town Center Mall in Charleston is scheduled for a public auction Thursday morning with the financial group that holds the unpaid loan the odds-on favorite to submit the winning bid.
“This is the step that allows the lender to become the legal owner of the mall,” Charleston Urban Renewal Authority Executive Director Ron Butlin said. “Then they can do as they wish. They can invest in the mall, they can sign leases, they can offer for sale.”
The former mall owners defaulted on the $93 million owed on a loan from U.S. Bank Association. The bank filed a lawsuit to put the mall into receivership. Kanawha County Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit signed off on an agreement last January appointing CBRE Group to handle the day-to-day operations of the mall while it remains in receivership.
Butlin said U.S. Bank Association is the most likely group to bid at 11 a.m. Thursday on the steps of the Kanawha County Courthouse but it is an open auction.
“A buyer could come to the auction and offer to buy the mall and the lender could either accept it or bid more than that and become owner of the mall. I think the probability of that (an outside bidder) is small but it’s there,” Butlin said.
The Charleston Urban Renewal Authority (CURA), which Butlin directs, owns the property on which the mall’s parking garages are built. It hasn’t received its lease payments since Town Center went in receivership. Butlin said he doesn’t foresee CURA selling the property under the new ownership.
“I would never say never but in my mind those garages are multi-functional. They function for the convention center, for some of the office buildings, some hotels as well as the mall. It would take a very special buyer to entice use to sell the land to them,” Butlin said.
Macy’s announced plans earlier this week to close its Town Center anchor store this spring. New Charleston Mayor Amy Goodwin has said she’ll form a task force to focus on the future of Town Center.
Butlin said he hopes the auction, which has been postponed several times, takes place Thursday. He said the future of the 36-year-old Town Center needs to take the next step.
“We just need to move forward, get the mall into the hands of what I hope is an investor with a long-term view of Charleston who is willing to invest some money and make the mall special again,” Butlin said.
The Charleston Town Center opened in 1983 as the largest downtown shopping mall located east of the Mississippi River but it, along with other retail malls, have fallen on hard times in recent years with a struggling economy and the major increase in online shopping. Sears closed its Town Center anchor store in 2017 while Macy’s, before this week’s announcement, had to be convinced to stay during the last two years with financial incentives.