Few answers on the Oak Park Mall’s future

Published 10:56 am Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Now that the city of Austin has withdrawn from a redevelopment deal for the Oak Park Mall site, many are wondering what happens next to the property.

The short answer? No one knows yet.

“It is so, so very unfortunate for the city of Austin and for the residents as well as [Martin Graff] and Hy-Vee,” Shan Kehret, marketing manager at the Oak Park Mall, said. “Now we have this mall that, no stores are in it. They were all forced to move out as part of the deal.”

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Kehret also became the marketing manager at Northbridge Mall in Albert Lea after the mall terminated most tenant leases at the end of 2014.

She couldn’t comment on what the mall owners — Chicago-based Martin Graff of M H Graff & Associates Inc. and Martin Goldman of M J Goldman & Co. Ltd. — had for the property. However, Kehret did acknowledge getting stores back into the mall would be difficult.

The city announced Monday it would cease negotiations to redevelop the mall after the businesses involved couldn’t come to terms on the proposal. The city entered into a purchase agreement last October to buy the mall for $3.2 million and redevelop the site for another $3 million so Hy-Vee could build a new 60,000- to 90,000-square-foot grocery story.

Yet ongoing negotiations proved difficult. The city not only had to work with the Oak Park Mall owners, but attorneys from Younkers, Shopko, and Cinemagic 7 to get a demolition project off the ground so the property could be handed over to Hy-Vee.

Attorneys with The Bon-Ton Stores, the parent company of Younkers, approved and sent out a final draft of an agreement for the city to last month to allow the project to move forward. That agreement included a $250,000 incentive for Younkers to remodel, as well as 18 months of free rent.

The company withdrew its own draft a week later after their attorneys drew up an additional 22 stipulations.

That deadlock effectively killed the deal, according to city officials. Oak Park Mall leadership advised the city it was out of time once again, and Hy-Vee needed answers on whether to build a new store or renovate its old one.

City officials hope another developer will take a look at the site. The mall’s owners owe about $373,000 in delinquent taxes on the property and county officials say the mall wouldn’t be eligible for property tax forfeiture until 2018.