OGDEN — Given its apparent money woes, paralleling dramatic shifts in the retail industry, Ogden’s Newgate Mall could take on a new feel as its owners and operators wrestle with its financial issues and forge a new future.
“It won’t be the Newgate Mall as we have seen it historically,” said Tom Christopulos, community and economic development director for the City of Ogden. “It will be something different.”
News publicly emerged Thursday that Newgate Mall had been placed in a receivership and that it would be put on the auction block after its owners defaulted on the $58 million loan they used to acquire the retail outlet in 2016. Court papers related to the matter offered few clues, stating only that joint mall owners Newgate Mall Holdings and Newgate Mall Equities had defaulted on payments on the loan, which came due May 1 last year.
On Friday, reps from the receiver, Woodmont Company in Fort Worth, Texas, and the mall’s parent company, New York-based Time Equities, still weren’t talking. Woodmont is managing the mall until the financial situation is squared away.
But Christopulos and Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell said they had been aware of the turn of events for the past two months or so. A public notice on Thursday said the mall would be auctioned on March 19 in front of the 2nd District Court building at 2525 Grant Ave. in downtown Ogden.
“It’s unfortunate. It’s distressing for a lot of people,” Caldwell said. “We’re willing and wanting to help anyway we can.”
The future of malls has been a topic of debate across the country for years as shoppers’ preferred means of buying things changes. Last August, CNBC and other media outlets cited an estimate from Coresight Research that 25% of the roughly 1,000 malls in the United States would close over the next three to five years. Locally, the old Ogden City Mall, located where The Junction dining and recreation area sits in downtown Ogden, was the focus of handwringing and distress until it was demolished in 2002 after years of financial struggles.
Christopulos said he’s not privy to the efforts of Newgate Mall officials and their creditors to address the situation. “We’re just kind of waiting for them to go through the process,” Christopulos said.
However, though COVID-19 has wreaked havoc with the U.S. and global economies, the pandemic isn’t to blame — isn’t wholly to blame, anyway. “It’s less related to COVID-19 than it is to the changing industry structure in retail,” he said, citing the dramatic expansion of online retail, exemplified by Amazon‘s growth.
He also cited the lingering effects of the 2018 departure from the mall of Sears, which had been a major tenant, occupying some 140,000 square feet of space. “It’s still a major revenue loss,” Christopulos said.
Accordingly, the Newgate Mall’s future may not be strictly tied to finding other retailers to fill the ex-Sears location and other vacant spots. Rather, success may hinge on finding “adaptive re-uses” for mall space, Christopulos said. The retail footprint in the mall could be scaled back, with vacant space given over to use by call centers, offices, even housing, he said.
He pointed to the example of the ex-Ridley’s Family Market Wansgards space at 145 N. Harrisville Road at Ogden’s Five Points intersection. The grocery store closed last year and vacated the space, but it will soon get a new tenant — MicroGEM, a molecular diagnostics company that plans to expand into the location.
“That’s an adaptive re-use,” Christopulos said.
MicroGEM plans to use the Ogden location to produce COVID-19 tests that can be used anywhere, without medical or lab personnel. Christopulos said the new operation, when “mature,” could employ around 200 people. The firm is in the process of expanding into the former grocery market.
Meantime, it’s not all gloom and doom at Newgate Mall. Department store Dillard’s, which owns its own space in the mall, seems to be doing well, Christopulos said.
Likewise, though many retailers have been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, Caldwell said there’s still room for in-person shopping.
“I still think there’s a big spot for people who want to go out,” he said, citing his own preference to shop in brick-and-mortar locations for clothing. The key is to be flexible and retain the ability to change as the market morphs.