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Hot Topic - The future of the mall on many people's minds

Matthew Lane • Feb 16, 2017 at 9:34 AM

KINGSPORT — Walking through the Kingsport Town Center is radically different today compared to more than a decade ago.

Since then, the ownership has changed twice, three different theater companies have operated and well over a dozen businesses have closed up shop for good or moved up the road to the Pinnacle in Bristol, Tenn.

Even the original name of the place was dropped in a rebranding effort, though most folks still call the 40-year-old shopping center the Fort Henry Mall.

Just this year alone, Sears announced it would be closing its Kingsport location, the locally owned Armoire left its upstairs space and the Charley’s Grilled Subs franchise shuttered its doors. A spokesperson for Charley’s confirmed to the Times-News this week that the franchise officially closed Jan. 31.

A picture of the closed Charley’s was recently shared on social media, and after just a couple of days the impromptu photo had reached more than 36,000 people, was shared by 220 and garnered dozens of comments.

“Oh man, we loved this place,” one person posted online.

“One of my favorite places to eat for years. Sad,” another said.

Others were not as charitable.

“Too expensive,” and “I only got half my order. Super rude.”

It’s safe to say the mall — both its current state and its future — is something the folks of the Model City care about.

 “We get asked pretty often what’s going to happen to the mall. It’s a pretty hot topic,” said Lynn Tully, development services director for the city. “Of the top fives things talked about, the mall is probably number two or three.”

Hopefully, the changes taking place at the Kingsport Town Center will shift from bad news to good.

A final step in the approval process for the redevelopment of the mall took place Tuesday when the Kingsport Economic Development Board signed off on a $2.3 million incentive over an 11-year period for the new owners, Hull Property Group.

The Augusta, Ga.-based developer, which purchased the mall last year for $5 million, plans to invest a minimum of $4.6 million in the facility over the next five years, the first phase of a multiphase redevelopment of the property.

The incentive agreement calls for Hull to increase sales by at least 15 percent beginning in year two to exercise a renegotiation option in year six. Sales have dropped considerably at the mall over the past five years, from $62 million in 2012 to $49 million last year.

Kingsport officials are projecting a potential six-year local sales tax increase of nearly $650,000.

Tully said the incentive agreement should have a stabilizing effect on the mall, allowing for potential tenants to be recruited in the near future. Some announcements regarding new tenants should be coming within the next couple of months, Tully said.

“Working with these new mall owners, they have a track record of bringing back underperforming malls in very similar markets and in similar situations,” Tully said. “We feel pretty confident the public will be happier with the changes they make rather than for the mall to stay like it currently is.”

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