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Office suites latest addition to shopping, eating, service mix

Old mall continues to try and find its place in Tupelo economy

Tupelo — In the 1990s, Tupelo has become many things for the northeast Mississippi region.

Almost at the top of the list is its dominance in the retail shopping industry. And without a doubt the single project that has been a virtual magnet for shoppers and other retailers is the Mall at Barnes Crossing, a 750,000-square-foot regional development that opened in early 1990.

But the project was not good for everybody, particularly the Tupelo Mall and the Downtown Mall, the city’s original two mall developments. Although the Downtown Mall has since been converted into a major convention center, the Tupelo Mall, now re-named Gloster Creek Village, has struggled — trying to find its rightful place among the shopping melee.

Len Pegues, one of six local businessmen who purchased the property in 1994 for nearly $2 million and currently is its general manager, believes Gloster Creek will rise again. Located virtually in the center of Tupelo, Pegues said the convenience of the location alone was worth the gamble. “We felt confident this is a good spot,” Pegues said. “We knew it wouldn’t be easy [but] we’re over the hump.”

Truly location is a major selling point for Gloster Creek, but so far shoppers — or at least retailers — have continued to congregate around Barnes Crossing.

Developed on the farthest reaches north of the city of Tupelo (the property was later annexed into the city), the Barnes Crossing mall has since produced three other power strip developments around it with talk of another two. New hotels, medical offices, restaurants, banks and Home Depot and Lowe’s mega-centers are the most recent to begin construction or announce their intentions.

“Twelve years ago, looking at that farmland, I would have told you we had lost our mind,” said Phil Purdom, director of leasing for David Hocker & Associates, owners and developers of Barnes Crossing in a recent interview with the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.

Left to its own devices, the Tupelo Mall would have been a completely enviable commercial location with its premiere location. But Pegues and his fellow investors didn’t buy the property and leave it alone. Over the last three and a-half years the group has invested nearly $2.5 million to transform the nearly 25-year-old property, including a completely re-paved parking lot, extensive landscaping, wrought iron fencing, the addition of a food court and giving nearly every space an exterior front.

“Although we got a good buy on it we knew we would have to put quite a bit of money into it,” said Pegues, who retired in 1979 from the family-owned funeral care business.

But even the influx of capital, a new tenant mix, new name and new marketing approach hasn’t produced a winning property, at least yet. Several new retail and service businesses have come and gone in the last three years as both the new developers, and the shopping public, try and decide what will be a viable future for the Gloster Creek.

“We were exploring all the opportunities there were,” Pegues said.

Pegues admits that the first couple of years were tough as retailers tried to operate around the massive renovation projects. Not all of them survived. In fact, few of those first tenants who signed on are still in operation. Through it all, the four tenants who were present when the new investor’s took over the mall — Radio Shack, Morrison’s Cafeteria, Karmelkorn and King’s Den — have remained.

Although Gloster Creek is now at about 20% occupancy, with a mixture of retail clothing, food, professional services and home appliances, Pegues expects the property to finally pick-up. and two new developments have really given the property a much-needed shot in the arm, he said.

The first good news came in early February when North Mississippi Health Services announced plans to purchase the former Sears property at the south end of the mall and move in their expanding Center for Business Health and management information systems department.

Although connected to the mall, the building and property were separately owned and Pegues and his fellow investors were unable to convince the owner to sell. Subsequently, access to the building had been closed off and the building and parking lot was not improved with the rest of the property.

With the purchase of the property by NMHS, access to the mall will be opened and barrier islands in the parking lot will be removed, Pegues said. The influx of 200 to 225 people onto the property also can’t be overlooked, he said.

Once the hospital began looking at mall space for offices, Pegues said it quickly became apparent that converting additional space at the south end of the mall for office space would be a very viable option.

So within the next two weeks, Pegues said The Business Commons, a 12-room executive suite complex, will open, taking advantage of the growing need for temporary and part-time office space in the area.

Like most executive suites, The Business Commons will have a common break area, two conference rooms, photocopier, facsimile and postal service available along with a full-time receptionist. Each office will have phone and voice mail service and two computer jacks.

The offices, which generally measure 10×10 or slightly larger, will lease for around $500 per month; a few smaller offices will lease for around $400 per month, Pegues said.

Although only about 7,000-square feet of the mall is being set-aside for the first phase of The Business Commons, Pegues said if the concept takes off there is a possibility that could be doubled.

Pegues said the multi-use mix now developing at Gloster Creek Village is very positive for the mall. The diversity of space gives him great leeway when showing potential tenants space.

Already two individuals who inquired about space in The Business Commons found the area too small but were persuaded to look at other space in the mall.

“I can offer somebody anything from 30,000-square feet to a 10×10 space,” Pegues said. “It really is an enviable position to be in.”

And apparently potential and current tenants are taking notice of the activity. Already several current have renewed their leases and more are expected to renew in the coming months, Pegues said. Also, two new leases were signed just last month and another three may be taking shape in the coming weeks.

One day in the not-to-distant-future, Pegues hopes to be in another inviable position.

“One of these days we’re going to be turning people down,” he said. “It won’t be anytime soon but it will happen.”

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