Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson is prepared to offer Sears incentives such as tax abatements to keep the full-service store as the remaining anchor for the 34-year-old Metrocenter Mall.
“Those are things we’re open to,” said Harvey’s spokesman, Chris Mims, of the incentives the city is willing to offer to help the store open despite its placement on a post-Christmas list of about 120 Sears and Kmart stores designated for closing.
Noting its 80 or so workers make the store the third largest employer in Ward 5, Mims said the mayor’s office is preparing attractive incentives “to sway them in any way we can to keep the store open.”
Sears owns the 240,000 square-foot building that includes 135,000 square feet of retail space. Whether the store will be put up for sale or lease has not been decided, said Kimberly Freely, spokeswoman for Chicago-based Sears Holdings. Corp.
Nor has Sears set a time frame for shutting down the store, according to Freely, who said market circumstances and other factors will dictate the closing dates of each store on the list. “What makes sense for one store may not make sense for another.”
The closing announcement comes just a month ahead of City of Jackson’s plans to move three city departments from the Medical Mall on Woodrow Wilson into about 60,000 square feet of space the city will lease in the former Belk store. Police Precinct 2 and several other city operations are moving into the space from the Atmos building, Mims said.
That will bring about 300 employees into the mall each day as well as a couple hundred people doing business with the city, according to Mims.
That potential customer base will be emphasized in talks with Sears, he said.
Further, Sears will be reminded that the full-service store is the only one of its kind within a 90-day mile radius, Mims noted.
A resurgent Metrocenter Mall and its likely redevelopment is a key element of Mayor Johnson’s “Go 80” strategy to bring new life to the south Jackson’s decaying U.S. 80 corridor. Whether the Sears closing represents a set back or a new opportunity for “Go 80” is uncertain.
Meanwhile, David Watkins, president of Watkins Development, the company that owns the former Belk space, said he expects the arrival of the city workers and additional visitors to create opportunities for more retail, food and beverage operations in the mall.
Watkins said the closing announcement surprised him, noting he thought the store’s sales were sufficient to keep it viable.
“The store last I saw was doing about $18 million a year in retail sales. That’s not shabby,” though it comes in low compared to many other Sears full-service locations.
The $18 million is “not a lot per square foot but if you own the building you can have a difficult sales figure and still make money,” Watkins added.
He took over as president of the Jackson Chamber of Commerce last Tuesday. Keeping the Sears store open occupies the top of his priority list at the moment, he said. “One of the first calls I’m going to make is to ask, ‘What can we do to shake things up?’”
In all likelihood, it’s too late for that, said Nina Holbrook, a commercial real professional and executive director of the Metrocenter Area Coalition, a 14-year-old group that promotes revitalization of the mall and the U.S. 80 corridor.
“What I’m afraid of is that with most decisions made by corporate structures there is no turning back.”