Shenango Valley mall

Customers leave the Shenango Valley Mall in Hermitage Wednesday. The mall has been purchased by LRC Realty, a real estate development company based in Akron, Ohio. The company has already started with Hermitage officials on a plan to re-imagine the struggling shopping center.

HERMITAGE – The Shenango Valley Mall has new owners.

LRC Realty, a real estate development company based in Akron, Ohio, has reached an agreement to purchase the shopping center from GFM-23, a group representing the 23 descendants of George F. McConnell.

Frank Licata, president of LRC Realty, said, for now, the company is just talking about the acquisition, not the exact blueprint for what the redeveloped property at the corner of East State Street and North Hermitage Road will look like.

“We will have more specific details as we move through the process,” he said.

But Licata said the redeveloped mall will be a place where residents can go to shop, to eat and to enjoy a space with modern amenities and an appealing, open design.

“The community should expect what I would describe as a first-class shopping facility, best-in-class retailers and best-in-class restaurants, and the amenities and public spaces that make people want to linger,” he said.

If the community wants an idea of what to expect, Licata said the company’s project, The Block Northway, which is located in along McKnight Road in the North Hills of Pittsburgh, would be the most similar concept.

The development replaced the Northway Mall, which was built in 1958 and was the first enclosed mall in Pennsylvania, Licata said.

With time, it experienced vacancies and obsolescence, a consequence many older shopping areas faced and are facing.

“We were able to come in, acquire it, reimagine it and rethink it,” he said.

The purchase was made at the end of 2012. The redevelopment was in 2015, with some openings in 2016, and the last round of “big tenants” opening this spring, Licata said.

Another eight acres will be developed soon, he added.

And the challenges Northway Mall faced are exactly what the Shenango Valley Mall battled, said Gary Hinkson, Hermitage city manager.

Shifting retail trends and absentee ownership left the mall with few tenants and in dramatic decline, Hinkson said.

“We have been working very hard, meeting with developers, state officials and potential tenants for the last two years to find a way for the Shenango Valley Mall site to be redeveloped in a manner that would serve the city and the region well into the future,” he said.

The city manager added that finding a solution has been a priority for the Hermitage Board of Commissioners and a focus for the 2030 Comprehensive Plan steering committee as well.

LRC seemed liked the perfect fit, he said.

“LRC Realty has a strong track record developing diverse commercial and mixed use real estate properties, has a working knowledge of the community and experience working with city staff,” Hinkson said.

City officials held several discussions with the company over the last few months, sharing conceptual drawings and communicating the city’s vision.

The project site will see significant changes that “will help address the city’s goal for connectivity throughout the community,” city officials said, adding that the new plan “might involve demolishing and renovating parts of the existing structure.”

Licata said there is no timeline yet for the Shenango Valley Mall project, but added that the company has approached potential tenants.

“The work has already begun,” he said.

Licata said the site has a lot of potential.

“Where the mall sits is the best real estate and the best location in the marketplace,” he said.

And he added that LRC Realty has gotten to know the area as well, adding that company officials spent a lot of time in Hermitage.

But this is not their first visit.

The company designed the Hermitage Plaza, which includes the Kohl’s Department Store. 

“We are very excited about the project,” he said.

Hinkson added that Hermitage is pledging its continued support with infrastructure improvements to further the project.

William Moder, president of the Hermitage Board of Commissioners, said the news is good for the city and the Shenango Valley.

“We appreciate that LRC Realty is making this very substantial investment in our community, and we recognize the efforts of the McConnell family for working with LRC to get this very positive outcome,” Moder said.

Matt McConnell, spokesman for GFM-23 and a Mercer County commissioner, said the family is optimistic about the mall’s future.

“I am really looking forward to seeing the final product,” McConnell said. “I think this is going to be a really good thing for everyone involved.”

He added that LRC Realty will bring ideas to the table that will benefit the community and mall retailers.

“Our tenants that are already there should feel very comfortable because this is a project that I think they will like being involved with,” he said.


THE MALL'S HISTORY

• The Shenango Valley Mall first opened in the mid-1960s and was originally owned by George F. McConnell. At the time, Route 18 was just a “dirt road,” his grandson Matt McConnell said, but George McConnell recognized the potential for commercial development at the site, which had been the family farm.

• Over past two years, the mall lost two of its three main anchor stores, Sears and Macy’s, while smaller stores including FYE, Payless ShoeSource, Rue 21 and Nadene’s Pittsburgh Sports also left. The J.C. Penney department store remains as an anchor

• The mall is currently owned by GFM-23, a group comprised of 23 of George McConnell’s descendants. The group had previously owned the land beneath the mall, then leased it to the mall’s owners.

However, GFM-23 sought direct ownership of the property after the latest owner, Iowa Square, failed to pay the rent and taxes required in the lease contract with the McConnell family.

Although the lease was not immediately granted to GFM-23, in December, a judge ordered that Iowa Square pay a bond to ensure its interest in the property. Iowa Square later failed to post the bond, and control of the mall was granted to GFM-23 in a court decision in January.

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