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New owner investing millions to overhaul Fort Henry Mall

SHARON CASKEY HAYES • Jan 13, 2007 at 9:24 AM

KINGSPORT - The new owner of the Fort Henry Mall plans to invest millions to redevelop the property and boost its image in the community.

And it's wasting no time getting started.

Somera Capital Management inked the deal to buy the mall Jan. 5 and has already hired a Los Angeles-based architectural firm, Rossetti, to redesign the facility.

"We're really excited about the opportunity to come in and rebuild the image of the center and look at a fairly extensive redevelopment of the property," said Steve Plenge, executive vice president of Somera Capital Management.

He said Somera hopes to form a plan in the next 12 to 18 months for the mall, taking into consideration input from city officials, surrounding neighbors, and the community at large.

He said the plan will include an overall upgrade of the facility and could include expansion depending on city approvals and reciprocal easement agreements with mall department stores. Those agreements deal with parking and access issues.

The redevelopment should also result in new tenants to the mall, including new restaurants, as well as new features in common areas.

"One of the things that our company prides ourselves on are the little things that we think mean a lot to shoppers, like having a great play area for kids, having really nice restaurants - state-of-the-art restaurants that include both family restaurants as well as lounges - and having soft seating throughout the mall so people can relax," Plenge said.

He said the architects will explore opportunities for a food court and possibilities for developing outparcels on the property.

"Everything about the mall will be touched, and it will be touched anywhere from paint to flooring to entryways," he said. "It will be a significant dollar amount - millions of dollars."

Asked if the new owner will retain the name Fort Henry Mall, Plenge said "For the time being."

"Everything will be looked at," he added.

He said his company bought the property because of its potential in a community with positive growth.

"As owners of regional malls across the country, we think the Fort Henry Mall area represents a wonderful place to be an owner/investor. We think we can make a strong financial investment in the property, and an important improvement for the community," Plenge said.

The Fort Henry Mall was built in 1976 and includes about 600,000 square feet of retail space. Anchored by Sears, J.C. Penney and Belk, the mall is at 95 percent occupancy and features such national retailers as Aeropostale, American Eagle Outfitters, Bath and Body Works, C.J. Banks and Victoria's Secret.

Somera Capital Management has contracted with Chicago-based General Growth Properties Inc. to oversee the management, leasing and marketing of the property. General Growth Properties is the second-largest owner and developer of regional shopping centers in the nation.

Rossetti, the architectural firm hired to redesign the mall, was founded in 1969 and has won multiple design awards for its work. The firm has designed large-scale projects such as sporting venues, university and educational facilities, civic projects, corporate headquarters, urban mixed-used and residential developments, and community master plans.

Mall Manager Kevin Harmon traveled to Chicago last week to meet with the mall's new owners and management team. He said he's looking forward to what's in store for the shopping complex.

"We're very excited about the possibilities of everything we're talking about," Harmon said.

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