A Texas developer plans to demolish much of the Shops at Worthington Place in an effort to save the struggling mall property by converting it into a mixed-use development called High North.
Under the plan, scheduled to go before the Worthington Planning Commission on Thursday, the north and west sides of the mall eventually would be torn down, removing about 120,000 square feet of the 138,000-square-foot building.
The mall’s owner, the Dallas firm Direct Retail Partners, plans initially to demolish the mall’s north end, about 85,000 square feet, and replace it with a 125,000-square-foot office building of up to 10 stories, including a parking garage.
In a second phase, the west side of the mall would be removed and replaced with an office building of similar size to the first, plus a 120-room hotel or a 100-unit residential building, a 30,000-square-foot office or retail building, and an outdoor plaza.
Traffic inside the 15.7-acre property would be shifted significantly, with a north-south road added through what is now the middle of the mall.
The proposal comes less than a year after Direct Retail Partners acquired the mall, on the southwestern corner of Route 23 and Interstate 270. Early this year, company officials said they planned to renovate the property.
The company described the changes as essential to saving the 46-year-old development.
“Having spent a lot of time in Worthington over the past few months, it is easy to see that this property is an important part of the community, with people sharing memories of visiting the old Worthington Mall,” Direct Retail Partners Managing Principal David Watson said in a news release.
“The fact is that many indoor malls across the country are declining, including the mall here in Worthington,” he said. “Indoor malls in superior locations and markets like Worthington can be successfully revitalized by converting them to mixed use ‘live, work, play’ developments.”
Although much of the mall appears occupied, Direct Retail Partners described the property as 45% “economically vacant” and said it is operating as a Class C or D property.
The mall’s 34 tenants include Talbots, Panera Bread, Orvis, Kenneth’s Hair Salon, First Watch, Aladdin’s Eatery, Piada, Howard Brooks Interior and Lume Family Eyecare. One of the mall’s longest tenants, Urban Baggerie, closed in the spring.
Direct Retail Partners said the previous owners’ renovation opening up the mall helped tenants on the east side of the property — most of them restaurants — but the rest of the mall struggles from a tired design.
“Unfortunately, the performance of retailers on the western side of the mall and those with interior access only is dismal,” Direct Retail Partners wrote in a letter accompanying its redevelopment plan.
“The poor performance of these tenants is the result of an outdated design that limits visibility and creates a poorly defined vehicular and pedestrian flow throughout the property. Without significant design improvements, it is anticipated that the interior corridor of the mall will need to be closed to eliminate the financial drain on overall operations.”
The company noted, however, that the success of some tenants and the mall’s high-traffic location off two major arteries make it ripe for a turnaround.
Even though office space is struggling during the coronavirus pandemic, Direct Retail Partners said that Worthington has a shortage of new premium office space.
The plan complements Worthington’s efforts to attract new office space, especially along the Route 23-Wilson Bridge Road corridor.
“There is demand for Class A office space in Worthington that we have been unable to meet,” said David McCorkle, the city’s economic-development director.
“Worthington has existing businesses that are growing and want to stay in the community but have been unable to find space. These businesses are looking for newer space with nearby amenities for their employees. This is the type of project that helps keep these employers growing in Worthington.”
The project will find itself competing for office tenants because a new development is rising immediately across West Wilson Bridge Road on the site of a former Holiday Inn.
The city’s Planning Commission and Architectural Review Board is scheduled to hear Direct Retail Partners’ request to rezone the property from commercial shopping center to “planned unit development.” Worthington’s planning department has recommended tabling the request until more information can be gathered.