The ownership status of Independence Center is unclear following Simon Property Group’s release of quarterly and annual earnings on Wednesday.
Simon is saying little about the situation. A company spokesman on Wednesday would not directly answer whether Simon continues to own and operate the mall.
A trade publication, Commercial Real Estate Direct, last month reported that Torchlight Loan Services of New York planned to foreclose on a $200 million loan against the mall and take ownership of it. Torchlight on Wednesday did not respond to an email from The Examiner.
Les Morris, Simon’s director of public relations at company headquarters in Indianapolis, said Independence Center has been moved to a status of “other properties,” and he offered to send an email with an explanation. However, that email contained a reference to one page in a recent Simon report and a comment by Morris that, “This is the only information that is publicly available.” He did not respond to follow-up phone calls.
Management at the mall also did not return a phone call Wednesday.
In its “earnings release & supplemental information” for the third quarter, released in October, Independence Center is listed among the company's hundreds of malls, “lifestyle centers” and “premium outlets” in the United States. Like most Simon malls, there is a debt listed against it.
Thirteen malls around the country – including Osage Beach Outlet Marketplace in Missouri – are listed as “other properties” with little added information other than the fact that debt is held on most of them. News reports generally don’t indicate any major problems with those properties, though some – unlike Independence Center – have lost anchor stores, as is common in retailing these days.
Still, on Wednesday, Simon released a new “supplemental information” report along with earnings, and it added a 14th mall – Independence Center – but still offers no definition of that beyond the fact that debt is held against some of those properties. The company reported earnings of $6.24 per share for 2017, up from $5.87 in 2016, and its board declared two dividends for shareholders, payable in the coming weeks.
Also, the company has dropped Independence Center from its website listing of malls across the U.S. and elsewhere in the world, though Simon Property Group still appears on promotional signs and other fixtures at the mall. Simon listed 209 U.S. malls as of Wednesday (including Osage Beach Outlet Marketplace).
But two of the 14 listed in the supplemental information have been scrubbed from the company’s website. One is Independence Center, and one is the Bangor Mall in Bangor, Maine. It also has a loan against it, and the Bangor Daily News reports that Simon defaulted on that loan last fall, and the mall is about to pass into the hands of the Florida company holding that debt. Also, that mall has lost two anchors, Sears and Macy’s.
Independence Center doesn’t have that problem. Sears, Macy’s and Dillards remain as anchors, and Independence Economic Development Council President Tom Lensak said the fact that those those actually own the property on which their stores sit is an asset, binding those companies more closely to the community.
Simon owns and rents out space for the rest of the mall and is the overall manager.
There have been closures. Starbucks had until recently been in a legal standoff with Simon over Starbucks’ plans to close its Teavana stories. The two sides recently settled that, and the Teavana at Independence Center is among dozens to close recently.
Independence Center, which Simon lists at 884,00 square feet, opened in 1974 – long before 39th Street development into a major retail area – and was substantially upgraded about 15 years ago.
“Simon’s done a great job of maintaining that property and keeping it relevant,” Lesnak said.
He noted that Simon recently put $400,000 into the space for the new H&M, a clothing retailer.
“For the most part, it’s (the mall) a pretty solid performer. … It’s a good asset to have,” Lesnak said.