By Spencer Campbell
For nearly half a century, western North Carolina shoppers have flocked to Asheville Mall on Tunnel Road for their sartorial needs. But like everything from newspapers to human decency, indoor shopping centers face intense threats from the internet. As many as a quarter of the 1,211 malls in the United States will close within five years, according to a 2017 report from Switzerland-based financial-services firm Credit Suisse Group, as online sales grow from 17% to more than a third of all sales by 2030. A new project from an out-of-state developer, however, just might give the Asheville Mall a longer life expectancy.
Seritage Growth Properties, a publicly traded real-estate investment trust created when Sears spun off 234 stores in 2015, has applied to the city of Asheville to demolish the mall’s Sears department store. In its place, Seritage proposes four new commercial buildings, including a site for a restaurant and a multiscreen movie theater. The plans also call for 204 apartment units packed into 227,100 square feet stretched over six floors.
Shopping centers nationally are finding new life as centers for offices, entertainment and restaurants, Seritage noted in its application. “The proposed redevelopment of the Sears property at the Asheville Mall, with its strategic regional location, exemplifies this type of adaptive reuse.” Seritage knows the trend well: Sears Holdings has closed more than 2,600 Kmart and Sears stores in the last six years, according to The Washington Post.
Asheville Mall opened in 1973, anchored by Sears, Belk and Bon Marché department stores. Belk and Sears remain prime tenants, along with JCPenney, Dillard’s and more than 200 smaller stores. While Seritage owns the Sears property, CBL & Associates Properties owns the mall. The Chattanooga, Tenn.-based property manager completed a multimillion-dollar renovation in 2017, including new entrance doors, lighting and flooring.
More area residents would benefit other nearby developments, including the Peaks project that is slated to include 12 restaurants and retail shops when it opens later this year, says Biff McGuire, CEO of owner Texas-based United Development. The site formerly housed the Beaucatcher Cinemas. Separately, GBT Realty of Brentwood, Tenn., acquired the 153,000-square-foot Overlook Village for $25.5 million earlier this year, with plans to redevelop that property as well. It now includes TJ Maxx and Ross stores.
RUTHERFORDTON — Tryon Equestrian Partners acquired Touchstone Fine Cabinetry, which makes custom kitchen and bath cabinets, for an undisclosed amount. Greensboro-based United Cabinet Holdings, which owns Touchstone, had planned to shutter the 67-employee business. Tryon is led by Managing Partner Mark Bellissimo and owns Tryon International Equestrian Center and U.S. Precision Construction.
ASHEVILLE — A study by Syneva Economics shows UNC Asheville has an annual economic impact of $450 million, a $100 million increase compared with five years ago. The university supports 3,911 jobs in Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson and Madison counties and boosts annual tax revenues by more than $62.4 million. UNC Asheville enrolls about 3,800 students.
RITHERFORD COLLEGE — ZRODelta will create 151 jobs and invest $34 million over five years in a local plant and distribution center. The Lubbock, Texas-based company makes accessories such as optical mounts for military and recreational shooting. ZRODelta acquired Eagle Springs-based firearms maker War Sport Manufacturing and Fayetteville-based Critical Capabilities, a supply-chain business, in January.