Editor’s note: Following the publication of this article, a statement was issued from the ownership and management teams of Genesee Valley Center responding to the COVID-19 situation. Further details describing specific measures being taken at the property are available here. The statement is as follows:
“For now, the property will remain open under the new measures until otherwise directed by local officials and the CDC, but the team is continuing to assess the situation as it progresses. Of course, all events or programming at the mall are on hold until further notice. Some brands have also opted at the corporate level to close their stores.
Mason Asset Management and Namdar Realty Group: “We are committed to ensuring the health and safety of all patrons, merchants, and employees at each of our properties. We have been monitoring the situation with regards to COVID-19 carefully, and we have taken a number of actions on-site to prepare, out of an abundance of caution for our local community. In order to protect both patrons, merchants and employees, we have ramped up cleaning efforts throughout common areas, and we have closed mall-operated entertainment including children’s play areas and carousels, as well as food court seating areas.
“Our properties are community centers where families can gather the supplies they need to weather the next few weeks, and we are working hard to ensure their health and safety while our doors remain open. That said, we are continuing to monitor the situation on a case-by-case basis, and ask that our communities bear with us as we adjust policies per the ongoing recommendations of local officials and the CDC.”
By Madeleine Graham, Zach Neithercut and Jan Worth-Nelson
Curious about the rumored fate of Genesee Valley Center mall? So were we at East Village Magazine. Here are a few nuggets revealed in a recent correspondence with several mall-related executives.
The mall was sold in December to Namdar Realty Group based in New York City, at a price that executives there we talked to declined to provide.
Elliot Nassim is president of Mason Asset Management which handles leasing for the Namdar Realty Group, and CH Capital Group–a partnership that spans acquisition, leasing and property management. Nassim explained that Namdar Realty Group is responsible for the management of the properties and Mason Asset Management handles leasing.
While anything could change based on the coronavirus chaos, Nassim asserted he does not know of any current plans for the mall’s remaining anchors — J.C.Penney and Macy’s. [Both J.C. Penney and Macy’s have been closed because of the coronavirus, however]. An indoor playground called Play Big opened in December 2018 in the former Burlington store.
Getting further specific information on the status of the mall through management proved unsuccessful, so an EVM staff writer walked the mall on Sunday, March 15 and counted 41 vacancies and 73 open. Thirteen were closed — due either to Sunday hours or COVID-19 closures.
Including stands/cart businesses as well as the food court:
- JCPenny wing/Wing E: 13 stores, 3 stands
- Macy’s wing/Wing S: 2 stores, 2 stands
- Play Big wing/Wing W: 4 stores
- Wing N: 6 stores (including Sear’s), 1 stand
- Outside: 2 stores, 1 restaurant (Bar Louie)
- Center of Mall: 1 store
- Food Court: 6
- JCPenny wing/Wing E: 19 stores, 2 stands
- Macy’s wing/Wing S: 17 stores, 2 stands
- Play Big wing/Wing W: 8 stores
- Wing N: 11 stores, 1 stand
- Outside: 4 stores, 2 restaurants
- Center of Mall: 1 store, 3 restaurants/food stands
- Food Court: 3
Closed due to Sunday hours or COVID-19 Total: 13
- JCPenny wing/Wing E: 1 stand
- Macy’s wing/Wing S: 4 stores, 1 stands
- Play Big wing/Wing W: 2 stores
- Wing N: 4 stores, including Genesee District Library, 1 stand
- Outside: 1 (Flint Public Art Project)
“The landscape of retail is changing, and we work alongside our tenants to create new concepts and strategies to attract patrons,” Nassim said. “We’re committed to the long-term success of our properties—we invest in the future of our assets. Our goal is always to determine the highest and best use of each of our properties, and that remains true for Genesee Valley Center Mall.”
Asked specifically about J.C. Penney’s and Macy’s, Nassim responded, “We are not currently aware of any plans for either anchor.” As for Sears, closed in 2018, he said, “We do not own the Sears block, so we are not aware of any future plans for the space.”
The 1.3 million-square-foot mall has been a staple of the Flint Township Community, since 1970, when it opened with 56 stores.
According to Wikipedia, Genesee Valley Center was developed originally by a retail division of Detroit-based Hudson’s department stores. Sears, the northern anchor, was the first store to open in May 1970. “Hudson’s followed two months later, with this location being the chain’s largest store outside of Detroit. These two stores served as the northern and southern anchor stores to the mall, respectively. On Aug. 8, 1970, Genesee Valley Center opened to the public.” It included a Hamady Brothers supermarket and Cunningham Drug A Woolworth dime store opened next to Sears.
Again, according to Wikipedia, “In 1979, an eastern wing anchored by JCPenney was added to the mall. A mezzanine level with a food court was added in 1987. The Cunningham Drug Store was demolished for a wing featuring a Mervyns in 1993, Montgomery Ward was also added.”
These additions made the mall the largest mall in Michigan north of Detroit.
“Woolworth was briefly downsized to a cosmetics-oriented prototype called Woolworth Express before closing entirely,” according to Wikipedia. “In 2001, Montgomery Ward had closed the last of its store nationwide. The same year, Hudson’s was renamed Marshall Field’s, which itself became Macy’s when the parent company of Marshall Field’s was acquired.”
As for the mall’s immediate future — again with unknowns based on the coronavirus situation, Nassim said, “We will continue hosting events, utilize strategic marketing to attract customers and we will continue to offer a wide store selection to give the local community a reason to come to the mall.”
As for the Food Court, Nassim said, “We will continue to work with local and national vendors to bring in a variety of food options to the mall.”
Noting that outdoor concerts are something consumers have enjoyed attending in recent years, Nassim stated, “The outdoor concerts are definitely on our radar and are just one of the ideas we are considering in an effort to continue bringing patrons to the mall.”
Asked about the future of mall commerce in general, Nassim predicted, “Malls will continue to be a destination for consumers–they will begin to offer more amenities, a variety of entertainment-focused tenants, and experiential pop-ups to enhance the shopper experience.
“Today’s malls are not only anchored by department stores, but are hallmarked by a mixture of health care, restaurants, fitness studios, and more to diversify the portfolio of tenants and attract larger sections of the local market.”
While declining to provide specifics about the mall itself, Taylor Falls, a public relations representative with a company connected to the mall management, provided the following boilerplate information about the two firms involved:
“ABOUT MASON ASSET MANAGEMENT
Founded in 2010, Mason Asset Management is a Long Island-based real estate investment, leasing, and brokerage company with expertise in the acquisition, disposition, and leasing of commercial real estate properties throughout the United States. Since inception, Mason Asset Management has firmly established its position as the preeminent privately owned owner/operator of retail assets nationally and currently is responsible for the leasing of a national portfolio of more than 180 shopping centers and enclosed malls, totaling more than 45 million square feet.
“ABOUT NAMDAR REALTY GROUP
Namdar Realty Group is a privately held, commercial real estate investment firm, located in Long Island, NY, owning and managing over 47 million square feet of commercial real estate throughout the United States. Founded in 1999, Namdar has become one of the fastest growing private real estate investment firms in the country, averaging over 20 acquisitions annually over the last 4 years, consisting primarily of large retail malls, shopping centers, office and medical buildings.”
Banner photo of wide swathe of empty parking lot at J.C. Penney wing, Sunday, March 15, by Zach Neithercut.
EVM Staff Writer Madeleine Graham can be reached at email@example.com. EVM Staff Writer Zach Neithercut can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at email@example.com.