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Valley malls strive for recipe to stay relevant

On both properties, the former Sears spaces have become ground zero for reimagining local malls. 

NILES — Eastwood Mall and Southern Park Mall are trying to escape the looming retail apocalypse with different strategies for staying relevant.

At each location, the former Sears department store spaces have become ground zero for reimagining local malls. 

In 2019, 9,302 stores closed nationwide, breaking the 2017 record of 6,995. In May 2017, Credit Suisse predicted that 25 percent of American malls will close by 2022.

On Monday, the Cafaro Company announced that Boscov's would fill the space formerly occupied by Sears in Eastwood Mall. The department store will open in October and bring about 300 jobs to the area. 

"If I had to go back to 1979 Strouss, the closest thing you'll find is Boscov's," said Cafaro Co. co-president Anthony Cafaro Jr., referring to the iconic downtown department store.

In the announcement, Cafaro said, "While others in the region may be tearing down buildings, at Eastwood, we're continuing to build, renovate, reinvent and expand." Cafaro was referring to Eastwood Mall's competitor, Southern Park Mall, owned by Washington Prime Group. 

The space formerly occupied by Sears was demolished in Boardman to create a green space that will be used for outdoor events. 

Cafaro declined to say how much the company is investing in renovations, but said it would be "multiple millions." Washington Prime Group pledged to invest $30 million in the redevelopment of the Southern Park Mall. WPG plans to recoup $6 million of its investment through incentives and has sparked the ire of some Boardman residents in the process. 

On Dec. 30, Boardman trustees granted Washington Prime Group a Community Entertainment District designation for Southern Park Mall. The CED provides the mall with five liquor licenses without requiring incoming restaurants to acquire them through traditional means. Unlike other means of acquiring a liquor license, liquor licenses acquired through the CED cannot be transferred, sold or used outside the CED designation. 

Boardman Local School Board voted on Dec. 16 to approve a Community Reinvestment Area agreement with WPG. The agreement, which must be approved by Mahoning County Board of Commissioners, exempts the company from having to pay property taxes on the assessed value of new structures at the site for 15 years.

WPG is also requesting the creation of a Joint Economic Development District, which would allow Boardman and another community to levy an income tax on new employees of the mall. 

Cafaro pointedly explained Monday that the renovation of the Sears wing would be completed without assistance in the form of incentives or tax abatements. 

"We're not looking for handouts," said Cafaro. 

Boardman township administrator Jason Loree pointed out that the city of Niles is able to collect income taxes, which generates about $9 million each year, whereas Boardman does not. 

Loree added, "Eastwood Mall has over the years had some additions and used incentives to deal with its growth," said Loree. "Southern Park Mall is doing the same thing other mall developers have done throughout the state."

Jess Hardin

About the Author: Jess Hardin

Jess Hardin is a reporter for Mahoning Matters. She grew up in Pittsburgh and last worked at The Vindicator. Jess graduated from Georgetown University.
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