By JACK WEATHERLY
County Line Road is in a holding pattern in more than one way these days.
Known for its infamous traffic, the mile-and-a-half, four-lane street that connects Interstate 55 and Old Canton Road, has lost several major stores in the past few years, and is about to lose more.
Meantime, the “anchor” of the retail corridor, the 950,000-square-foot Northpark Mall built in 1985, has lost a number of prestige tenants in recent years, including Williams-Sonoma, Restoration Hardware, Lee Michaels Fine Jewelry, Abercrombie and Fitch, Brookstone, Ann Taylor and Gap.
Sam’s Club on the west end of the street will soon depart for Madison. Close by, a former Walgreen’s, which moved eastward on the road, is still empty after nearly two years.
Kroger vacated its quarters at the east end of the street in November 2013 and stands empty.
Long gone from Purple Creek Plaza is Red Hot & Blue Memphis Pit Bar-B-Que, considered a coup when it opened in the ‘90s.
Barnes and Noble found the newer Renaissance on Colony Parkway — an upscale, open-air mall farther north in Ridgeland — more to its liking.
Also gone is Romano’s Macaroni Grill, which made a name for itself with its Italian garden atmosphere and a jug of wine left on the table.
Copeland’s, a New Orleans-style restaurant, closed and another tenant, Friday Tuna, subsequently shut down. The building is back on the market.
Les Morris, a spokesman for the Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group, the nation’s largest owner of retail property, including more than 100 malls, acknowledged the departures from Northpark.
The mall underwent a renovation in 1998 and there are no plans in the works for another at this time, he said.
Simon has five of the top 10 malls in terms of sales per square foot, the key metric for such businesses, according to Green Street Advisors.
As for Northpark, Morris said that “we’re laser focused on our property now and how we can make it better.”
Our mantra here is: ‘always improve the properties,’ and we’re constantly looking at the portfolio,” Morris said.
The mall scored a coup when H&M, a stylish, Sweden-based store opened a year ago.
“They’re a great retailer and so we’re happy that their only store in Mississippi is in Northpark Mall,” Morris said.
Green Street, a real estate research firm, listed H&M as one of the top 10 tenants nationwide in 2014, along with Foot Locker and Express, both of which have stores at Northpark.
Kris Jewelers in February “more than tripled their size with us” in February, Morris said of the custom jeweler. When an existing tenant expands, that’s a vote of confidence, Morris said.
As of March 31, the average occupancy rate at Simon Property’s malls was 95.8 percent, he said. And while occupancy rates for individual properties are not made public, Northpark is “in line with that.”
The most recent renovation of Northpark was in 1998 and there are no plans on the drawing board right now, he said.
He noted that Northpark’s anchors, Belk and Dillard’s, report good overall performance. Plus “our sales for the mall are in general going up.”
Little Rock-based Dillard’s reported that corporatewide sales were down 1 percent in its fiscal first quarter, and that it plans to add three stores to its 274-store chain. Charlotte, N.C.-based Belk, which operates 297 stores, reported sales were up 3.3 percent in its fiscal first quarter.
Simon, a publicly traded real estate investment trust, closed Tuesday on the Nasdaq stock market at $175.24, midway between a 52-week low of $162.43 and high of $206.31.
Meantime, County Line deals with its own challenges.
Two years ago, Ridgeland and Jackson talked of forming a business improvement district, but that has not come to fruition, said Alan Hart, Ridgeland’s director of development.
Yet the effort continues, Hart said in an email.
“This discussion about a BID is still very early in the process,” he said.
“Both cities are currently working to gauge the interest of the local property owners. Opinions vary widely. It is unknown at this time if area property owners would like to proceed to the next step, which would be to identify the district’s services and budget.”
Ben Allen, president of the Jackson Downtown Partners, is assisting in the effort to form the County Line district.
Because of his background with Jackson Downtown Partners, an improvement district, he was asked to help out with the County Line effort, Allen said. An improvement district is a voluntary organization in which members agree to assess fees on themselves.
He said there have been several meetings and “everything is kumbaya” as far as the two cities are concerned. “We’ve got a lot of out-of-state owners, and these things take time.” Malls such as Renaissance and Dogwood Festival in Flowood have, in effect, built-in districts to handle things such as landscaping and security.
“Imagine the savings to have one security contract for the whole area,” Allen said.
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