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Century III owner committed to mall's revival

| Wednesday, July 31, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Century III Mall shoppers gather around the fountain in the West Mifflin mall to throw coins into the water. The mall's new owner is Las Vegas-based Moonbeam Capital Investments LLC.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
The Century III Mall in West Mifflin is under new ownership by Las Vegas-based Moonbeam Capital Investments LLC.

JoAnne Lloyd and her two sisters stopped at Century III Mall this week as part of a shopping trip they make every other month or so to a home accessories store on Route 51.

They rarely buy anything at the West Mifflin mall anymore, said Lloyd of Washington. Vacancies abound, and stores the women used to frequent are gone.

“They had the biggest T.J.Maxx home store” called T.J.Maxx 'n More, Lloyd said.

Foot traffic in the 34-year-old shopping center was sparse on Tuesday. Shoppers, store managers and West Mifflin officials say a lack of investment in the complex, fewer popular stores, high rent and loitering are reasons for the decline.

New owner Moonbeam Capital Investments LLC of Las Vegas hopes to return Century III to its former glory.

“We're in this for the long haul. This is not a short-term investment. … This is an extension of our family, so to speak,” said Sandra O'Clock, Moonbeam's vice president of special projects.

In May, Moonbeam bought the 1.2 million-square-foot mall for $10.5 million from C-III Capital Partners LLC of Irving, Texas. C-III paid $1 in 2011 to purchase the mall from Simon Property Group. Simon voluntarily defaulted on $78.97 million in debt on Century III.

Moonbeam owns 10 million square feet of property, including seven malls, and has a history of buying malls that have gone into foreclosure or otherwise hit tough times, but are in great locations with good demographics, O'Clock said.

The key to turning Century III around will be developing a business plan that takes into account what the community wants to see there, investing in maintenance that has been neglected for years, and developing an operations budget and marketing plan, O'Clock said.

West Mifflin Mayor Chris Kelly said Moonbeam has been communicating its plans well with borough officials.

“It's been an open-door policy,” Kelly said, adding that officials agree with Moonbeam's goal to turn the mall into a destination point.

West Mifflin has scheduled its annual Community Day for Sept. 7 in the mall's parking lot — in part because of construction at Allegheny County Airport, the usual location, but also as a way to reintroduce residents to the mall and allow them to meet Moonbeam representatives.

Moonbeam's plans include improving women's and children's apparel offerings, said Shawl L. Pryor Sr., senior vice president of real estate.

The company wants to look at establishing an entertainment component at the mall, which lacks national restaurant chains in a 3-mile radius, he said. Moonbeam would consider adding a movie theater to the mall, too, O'Clock said.

Downtown-based real estate firm Langholz Wilson Ellis Inc. has been retained to attract national retailers.

Establishing the right atmosphere that entices people to shop, dine and socialize is vital.

“As cliché as it may sound, yesterday's town squares are today's malls,” Pryor said. “It's the one place that if you didn't have a chance to say hello or know your neighbor, you can meet them right there at the mall for the first time.”

The mall's vacancy rate is about 32 percent, but Moonbeam's immediate goal is to lease about 10 percent of the vacancies by November, Pryor said. Anchor stores such as Macy's, Dick's Sporting Goods and J.C. Penney still are major draws, he noted.

By comparison, the midyear vacancy rate for malls and upscale, outdoor “lifestyle centers” such as the Waterfront was 3.5 percent in Pittsburgh and 6 percent nationwide, according to real estate information company CoStar Group Inc.

Real estate services firm Jones Lang LaSalle, which managed the mall under C-III's ownership, said in a 2011 profile that the mall's attributes include its 1.5-mile distance from the county airport and its location along Route 51, a major traffic artery. The mall hosts a Port Authority of Allegheny County Park and Ride stop that brings in 47,000 cars annually.

“It's a huge asset. It's one of the largest shopping malls in the region,” said Maury Burgwin, president of the Mon Yough Area Chamber of Commerce.

Lloyd said she'd like discount department stores such as T.J.Maxx and Marshalls to open at the mall.

Century III needs more restaurants in its food court and upscale stores, said Brian Berry, manager of Bradley's Book Outlet in the mall.

Bethel Park resident Jared Zych, 24, said he visits Century III to buy clothes for his video-gaming apparel company, No One Likes a Camper, from a Champs outlet. He then applies his company's name and logo.

He said he buys items for himself from higher-end stores in Ross Park Mall in Ross.

Century III has the potential to be a great mall again, he said.

“I think they just have to figure out what their market is,” he said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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