KINGSPORT — Last year’s speculation about the demise of the Fort Henry Mall turns out to be true.
If the mall’s new owner’s plans come to fruition, soon there will be no more Fort Henry Mall.
But there’s a huge twist involved that includes a new name and 85,000 square feet of new interior space, revamping existing interior space, a food court and a clock tower.
Plans are for the venerable retail anchor of about 530,000 square feet to become Kingsport Town Center. The mall as currently configured has about 65 businesses at 2101 Fort Henry Drive on a 50-acre tract.
“We are changing the name of the mall to reflect our pride in the Kingsport community,” Tom Falatko, senior vice president for mall owner Somera Capital Management, said in a written statement. “We feel strongly the new name and significant changes through redevelopment will maintain and strengthen the mall’s position as the dominant retail property in the market.”
Somera bought the mall Jan. 5 and hired Chicago-based General Growth Properties 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.
The original architect for the project, the Los Angeles-based architectural firm called Rossetti, has been replaced by Chicago- based OWP/P Architects Inc. Mall General Manager Kevin Harmon said OWP/P is well suited for the task and that Rossetti, which also qualified, had too many other projects on its plate.
The mall was previously owned by Baltry LLC of Syracuse, N.Y., and managed by BoardWalk Management Co.
“We want it to be a town center, a gathering point for the community, a part of the community,” Harmon said. In addition, he said that the mall would continue to help support United Way through Santa’s Night Out, other charities and Fun Fest.
The revamped mall near the intersection of Fort Henry Drive and Memorial Boulevard is to include 85,000 square feet in expansions, not counting four to five restaurants or retail establishments on outparcels, and a clock tower.
Harmon said the name change would become formal about a month before the new grand opening, for which no date has been set.
That 615,000 square feet plus the outparcel structures would likely surpass the size of the 625,000-square-foot Kingsport Pavilion development, where stores are set to open beginning this fall.
Other retail centers in Kingsport include East Stone Commons, a 275,000-square-foot redevelopment of the old Kingsport Mall site, and the pending Reedy Creek Terrace planned to be 45,000 square feet.
The free Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia, in an entry last modified Monday, Aug. 13, indicates the work at the mall should be completed by the fall of 2008.
However, Harmon said he could not provide or confirm a timetable, and information in a leasing packet indicates redevelopment plans for “2007-2009.”
Amid a rising retail tide
Details of the name change, renovations and expansions at the mall come two years after East Stone Commons opened on the site of the city’s first mall, the Kingsport Mall once anchored by Montgomery Ward and Hill’s Department Store.
Almost within view of the soon-to-be Kingsport Town Center is the Crown Point redevelopment at the intersection of Fort Henry Drive and Eastman Road, including what will be the largest Food City Store in the 94-store chain.
In addition, the Kingsport Pavilion on East Stone Drive, just east of Lowe’s, is set to have anchors Target and Kohl’s, along with other retailers, open this fall.
And Roger Ball, the original developer of East Stone Commons, is developing Reedy Creek Terrace — to include a Starbucks already under construction — on the west side of Eastman Road.
A second Kingsport Lowe’s is under construction in western Kingsport. That’s next to the Wal–Mart on West Stone Drive, which is one of two Wal-Marts in Kingsport.
In addition, downtown Kingsport is experiencing a rebirth of restaurants, retail, and other businesses, including TriSummit Bank moving into the old power company building on Church Circle in about a year.
“Kingsport is finally getting what it deserves,” Harmon said.
“For a long time, the companies looked at the Tri-Cities as one market,” Harmon said. “Our customers tell us they go to Johnson City for Target and Old Navy.”
In either case, he said people after going to Target and/or Old Navy often will go to the mall, to eat and see a movie.
Last year, during the approval process for tax-increment financing for redevelopment projects in Kingsport, Sullivan County Commissioner Ralph Harr of Bristol and others at a public meeting lamented that the Fort Henry Mall might be on its way out to make way for the Pavilion, East Stone Commons and other retail centers — much as the Kingsport Mall, Fort Henry Mall, strip malls and mass retailers helped ring the death knell for downtown Kingsport’s retail heyday.
In response to Harr’s comments, for which the commissioner later apologized and said were in error, Harmon, Assistant City Manager for Development Jeff Fleming and others at that time said the new retail developments, added to existing ones like the Fort Henry Mall, would help keep more Kingsport shoppers in town and attract more shoppers from elsewhere.
“Competition is good. Competition is good for anyone. You run a better store, you run a better business when you have competition,” Harmon said.
Harmon said that the growing selection of stores in Kingsport, coupled with fuel prices, should keep more Kingsport area residents shopping here and attract some from neighboring areas.
Owners of minivans and sports utility vehicles can spend $50 or more in gasoline driving to Knoxville and back, he said.
“Our sales have climbed since East Stone Commons went up,” Harmon said. “We believe it’s because more people are being served here.”
In a leasing brochure, Falatko called Kingsport “the most affluent city in the Tri-Cities” with a “great demand among residents for more sophisticated retailers.” The brochure says Kingsport residents’ personal income totals $7 billion per year compared to $4 billion for Johnson City residents, based on census data.
The brochure also lauds the sale of Mercedes, Lexus, Porsche and Jaguar luxury automobiles in Kingsport and a 7 percent growth in retail from 2005 to 2006.
Details, details, details
For now, the Fort Henry Mall retains its old name and existing Web site at www.forthenrymall.com, but it also has launched new Web sites — www.kingsporttowncenter.com and www.kingsporttowncenter.com/leasing — to promote the new name and other planned changes.
“We will have outdoor gathering spots and restaurants that will compliment the existing retail and the Marquee Cinemas,” Harmon said. “The retail and dining lineup will only get better.”
Harmon emphasized that architects are still working on detailed designs and that artist renderings may not reflect final designs.
Asked about expansions of existing anchors and other tenants, he said that was possible but that he had no details to share.
According to detailed information on the Web sites, exterior renovations are to include:
• A 15,000-square-foot expansion at the north entrance.
• A 70,000-square-foot, two-story expansion at the west entrance, which leasing information indicates “will add several new stores to both levels.”
Harmon would not rule out another anchor store but said the expansion as planned is for smaller tenants.
• A “fresh, contemporary design” with brick and glass facades.
• A clock tower.
• “Monumental” new entry structures.
• Four to five new restaurant and retail buildings on outparcels. Harmon said the mall, with 3,230 parking spaces, can develop the outparcels because it has more than needed for the ratio required by the city.
• And better outdoor lighting.
Interior renovations, according to the Web site, are to include:
• New stone-paved floors.
• Gathering places with comfortable seating.
• New ceilings and skylights for dramatically increased natural lighting.
• All new lighting fixtures throughout the mall.
• New signs, graphics and directories.
• A new children’s play area.
• And an “elegant” new dining terrace with indoor and outdoor seating overlooking downtown Kingsport, an amenity also mentioned in a leasing package.
However, Harmon said downtown will not be visible from the food area and that information is to be taken off the Web site.
For the near future, Harmon said customers will notice new kiosks in use by Christmas and the Shoe Dept., a store new to the mall, opening up in a space beside Sears this fall.
Harmon said the structural steel going up next to the Belks wall near the movie theater and Garfield’s entrance has nothing to do with the pending expansions or renovations. He said the steel is to ensure the wall, whose design was altered during contruction, stays structurally sound for the time being.
The Fort Henry Mall was built in 1976 and renovated in 1989 and 2005, according to leasing packet information.
It features more than 65 retailers, including Aeropostale, American Eagle Outfitters, Bath and Body Works, C.J. Banks and Victoria’s Secret. Anchors are Sears, Belk and J.C. Penney. Sears and Penney are in their original locations, while Belk occupies space of predecessors Miller’s, Parks-Belk and Proffitt’s.
Existing eateries include Piccadilly Cafeterias, in its original 1976 location, Subway, Great American Cookie Co., Italian Village, Garfield’s, Charley’s Steakery, Chick-fil-A, Auntie Anne’s and The Cookie Store.
“If they’re traditionally found in food courts, then they would move to the food court,” Harmon said of the makeup of the new food area. “There are some (eateries) that won’t come (to a mall) unless there is a food court.”