It’s a lot of space to fill in one big gulp, with the Sears department store now empty nearly four weeks and the hhgregg appliance and electronics outlet now “going out of business” as part of its entire company’s demise.
That leaves both avid and casual shoppers alike wondering just what might happen with the large holes at Columbus Park Crossing, a power shopping center that fared well through the Great Recession several years ago but is now beginning to show cracks in its retail portfolio.
Could the 130,000 square feet of showroom space left vacant by Sears on March 26 eventually be home to another department store such as Belk? Perhaps it might be a Costco wholesale store, with that retailer having taken a look at the city in years past now ready to pull the trigger on Columbus?
Or maybe developers and commercial brokers can think out of the box a bit by dividing up the space into several users, including a hub for restaurants and entertainment? The possibilities seem somewhat endless, even if they are not.
Calls to Genesis Real Estate Advisers, with offices in Atlanta and Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., and the company that is in charge of leasing empty space at Columbus Park, were not returned. But local real-estate professionals have their hunches about what might happen next with the high-profile vacancies.
“You’re right on target,” Jack Hayes, a real-estate broker with KW Commercial Realty River Cities, said when tossed the notion that Belk might be a good possibility for the former Sears location.
“You’ve got Belk, who’s been trying to get into the market for some time,” he said. “You’ve got Gander Mountain, but I think they had gotten into a little financial trouble. What I would tell you is you’ll see those spaces filled relatively quickly, and when I say that, I mean inside six months there will probably be an announcement that they have come to terms with someone. Primarily it has to do with the fact that there has been somewhat of a barrier to entry at Columbus Park Crossing for some time for big-box stores.”
By that, Hayes means that literally there has been little developed available space come open at Columbus Park Crossing since its opening in 2002. A large Circuit City store went bust at one end of the power strip center early on, but was replaced by Atlanta-based Haverty’s furniture store. Adams Brokerage Co., which has been looking to develop a tract of forested land adjacent to the strip center that is anchored by Kohl’s and Dick’s Sporting Goods, has been unable to do so.
Commercial brokers say the difficulty with the Sears floor plan is that it has two levels, plus a former automotive center area that Sears originally planned to leave open, but then pulled the plug on. That might leave Genesis or those working with the leasing company to fill the vacated space considering carving up the building that is adjacent to the AMC theater complex formerly known as Carmike Cinemas.
“I heard Bass Pro Shops was looking at it,” said Reynolds Bickerstaff, who co-founded Bickerstaff Parham, a real-estate company in Columbus, of which he is chief experience officer there.
“It’s tough. I was talking to somebody today, and with the rents on some of these big retail areas, the traffic just isn’t supporting it like it was originally projected,” he said. “The rent in the Columbus Park Crossing area is on the high end. So you’ve got to have six busy days a week. You take the Sears building, that would be great for a Bass Pro Shop. What’s another big box retailer that would go in there?”
Perhaps a Belk, which has 292 stores in 16 states, including locations all around Columbus — in Auburn, Ala., LaGrange, Ga., and Americus, Ga. Virtually every other major city in Georgia has a Belk department store of one size or another, including Macon and Albany. In all, there are 46 Belk locations in Georgia and 21 in Alabama.
Asked if the former Sears space at Columbus Park Crossing, or even Columbus in general, is on any short list to receive a Belk department store, Andy Izuierdo, the Charlotte, N.C.-based company’s vice president of communications and community relations, said he had no information on the market for now.
But he did confirm Belk is always searching for new locations and that it does have two stores in the works for openings in October. One is in Bowling Green, Ky., with it going into 124,000 square feet of space that once was home to a Macy’s. Another is under construction at a shopping center in Evans, Ga., outside of Augusta, with it measuring about 85,000 square feet.
“I don’t have any information about that spot specifically,” Izuierdo said of the Columbus Sears location. “But, certainly, as we’re looking at different opportunities to go into other markets standalones, as well as former retail spaces of competitors, are always an option.”
As for the 38,000-square-foot hhgregg store that is now liquidating, its smaller size and good location on the opposite side of the AMC theater complex might make it less difficult to fill with a new tenant.
Hayes recalls California-based gym operator LA Fitness looking at the Columbus market a few years ago for up to two locations. That would be a good use for the property, he said. Pete Hart, a commercial broker with Columbus-based Jordan Company, which is handling leasing of the hhgregg space, declined to comment.
Be it the departing electronics retailer or the hulking space left empty by Sears, Bickerstaff said creative thinking should be able to solve the dilemma. For Sears, he said it might be a matter of dividing up the pie.
“I don’t think it’s going to happen here yet, but you’ve seen some of these big indoor malls converting some of their vacant space into residential space — apartments or senior housing,” he said. “But it would be a great place for Dave and Buster’s, something that would complement another recreational user.”