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Southern Park Mall developer seeks tax breaks

Wants liquor permits for envisioned Community Entertainment District

Staff photo / Ashley Fox Construction is ongoing at the Southern Park Mall, where the DeBartolo Commons project is underway. Completion of the project, which is a part of $30 million in investments by Washington Prime Group, is expected in the fall of 2020.

BOARDMAN — Mahoning County residents and Boardman schools will not be impacted by tax incentives being sought as part of the DeBartolo Commons project at Southern Park Mall, officials say.

Matt Jurkowitz, vice president of the Washington Prime Group that operates the Southern Park Mall, said during a news conference Thursday that the Columbus-based company anticipates investments of $30 million to be made at the mall over the next few years.

He explained that Washington Prime seeks tax abatements to offset costs of $6 million. The company would fund 100 percent of its project costs up front and be reimbursed a portion over time through a series of programs, including working with the Western Reserve Port Authority to save on sales tax paid on construction materials.

Washington Prime is asking Mahoning County commissioners, Boardman Township and Boardman schools to establish a program allowing the company to keep a portion of new real estate taxes generated from the newly created property value.

The company also would work with Boardman, Mahoning County and “other local partners” to put programs in place to allow Washington Prime “to impose, for a limited time, new taxes on the Southern Park Mall site, which, once collected, will be shared with the company.”

“It’s important to note that none of these programs will require any local government or agency, including Boardman Local Schools, to forgo a single dollar of budgeted revenue,” Jurkowitz said, adding that no resident within the county will have to pay any additional taxes for the project.

The Boardman Board of Education will vote on the abatement 6:30 p.m. Dec. 16 at Boardman Center Intermediate School, 7410 Market St.

Jeff Barone, school board president, said it is not uncommon for investors of large projects to ask for abatements.

The abatement will not affect the bottom line of Boardman schools and only would involve new tax dollars generated within the renovated area for no more than 15 years, Barone explained.

Jurkowitz said the project will allow for job growth, expanded property sales and an improved income tax base, green space for sports for the school system, a new hike and bike path that will connect the Southern Park Mall property with Boardman Park and neighborhoods south of U.S. Route 224, and Jurkowitz added, new storm water facilities that will “ease the risk of flooding downstream.”

NEW VISION

A new vision of future mall complexes was discussed as well.

“I think we’ve had to realize the mall as it used to be isn’t quite the same model that works going forward,” said Brian Gabbert, Southern Park Mall general manager, following the conference.

The answer, he said, is for malls to “become more than just a place to shop because it doesn’t work that way anymore.”

During the conference, held in the common area in front of the former Sears store, Gabbert confirmed demolition, which began Sept. 7, is on schedule to be completed next fall. “The last brick fell the day before Thanksgiving, so that is moving along very well,” he said.

Redevelopment is expected to continue through spring and summer of next year, with completion of the project to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the mall.

Barone said the interest in Southern Park Mall is a testament that Boardman is a “vibrant” township and can be a leading example of a future mall concept, “a true community center.”

The pilot project is welcomed, he added. “For once, it seems it is not Columbus, it’s not Cincinnati or Cleveland. It is the Mahoning Valley, specifically Boardman.”

“What’s happening here at the mall is reflective of what’s strong with Boardman and our community,” Boardman Township Administrator Jason Loree said — adding the opportunities associated with this project are elevating Boardman. “We’re creating not just a place for people to shop and have entertainment. We’re creating basically a centerpiece for Boardman Township.”

Later, Jurkowitz explained the envisioned Community Entertainment District, which would allow new restaurants to apply for liquor permits.

“If you want to come and do business here, we know as you’re evaluating and looking at this opportunity that right now one of the grating issues is a lack of liquor permits available,” he said.

A state program has been established that allows new tenants to apply for a liquor permit once a lease is signed.

Establishing the CED at the mall complex is a proactive measure to entice restaurants to come to Boardman, Jurkowitz said.

Under the CED, the mall can obtain one permit per five acres — up to 15 acres, he explained, adding Southern Park Mall is situated over 70 acres.

Once obtained, the permit is non-transferable and “goes dark” if a permit holder vacates.

“The name of the game is to limit obstacles. (The CED) says to folks, ‘We’re open for business,'” Jurkowitz said.

A Coffee with the Community event is scheduled with Washington Prime Group at the mall at 11:30 a.m. Dec. 13, where community members can ask questions about the proposed incentives package.

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