Thursday, July 13, 2000

Bass Pro should reel in shoppers

Forest Fair Mall: New tenants, new attempts at success

By Lisa Biank Fasig
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In the former Parisian wing of Forest Fair Mall, the ringing of jackhammers replaces cash registers, as the giant mall transforms into a center of destination stores and value merchants.

        Forest Fair is preparing for its star tenant: Bass Pro Shops. In the next five months, workers will convert the former department store into an outdoorsman's paradise, with an indoor pond, putting green, archery range and boats.

Mall layout

  The 12 largest tenants, either existing or coming to Forest Fair:
  • Bigg's (open)
  • Elder-Beerman (open)
  • Bass Pro Shops (November)
  • Kohl's (open)
  • Burlington Coat Factory (November)
  • Showcase Cinemas (Fall 2001)
  • Time-Out on the Court (open)
  • Media Play (November)
  • Super Savers movie theater (open)
  • Berean Christian (open)
  • Guitar Center (open)
  • Moore's Fitness (open)
        Bass Pro will be joined by other anchors and merchants, encouraging shoppers that the giant store — known to bring crowds from across state lines — will attract businesses as well as consumers.

        “My husband is going to enjoy it, I can tell you that much,” said Lona Ratcliff, a Forest Fair shopper and mall walker from Hamilton. “I think it's going to bring more business back here.”

        Bass Pro, along with Burlington Coat Factory and Media Play, will open in November, marking the completion of Phase I of the redeveloping mall. Phase II will open a year from August, with Showcase Cinemas, a new food court and a series of specialty merchants and designer-name outlet stores.

        Until then, construction workers will move to different areas of the 1.4 million-square-foot mall in Forest Park and Fairfield, clearing spaces and building anew.

        “This is just the beginning, it's hard for Cincinnati to understand,” said James Goldsmith, president of Miami-based Gator Investments, which owns Forest Fair. “What was considered as a failure in our business is oftentimes an opportunity.”

        When Mr. Goldsmith looked at Forest Fair Mall back in 1996, he didn't see a doomed retail center; he saw the potential for a new mall. It was cheaper to renovate than to build, he thought — so his company went at it.

        Gator's investment is up to about $40 million, Mr. Goldsmith said. It cost original owner LJ Hooker Developments $250 million to build Forest Fair, which opened as a high-end mall in 1989 and soon after succumbed to financial setbacks.

        “(Outlets) would be the best bet for this place,” said Mel Sandow, a sales associate at Nadlers Men's Cloth ing. “This is not a Kenwood area. They need a lot of specialty stores. You need variety.”

        Leah Pittard, a Miami University student who has worked at Forest Fair for three years, agreed. “I think (Bass Pro) will bring in business but not as much as it could because the mall pretty much has died.” She thinks other tenants will complete the picture.

        These days, Bass Pro is still in the midpoint of development, but significant changes have been made. To wit: The atrium in the center of the selling floor has been enlarged to accommodate a giant aquarium and waterfall, and the ceiling on the second floor has been raised.

        Michael Dunham, senior vice president of leasing, said he angled for Bass Pro for more than a year. “I think, in a few years, this is going to be one of the hottest malls in the U.S.”

        In other parts of the mall, Burlington Coat Factory is being built in the former Festival wing, where Bourbon Street and night clubs operated. Media Play is emerging next to Kohl's on the first floor. Construction of Showcase Cinemas will begin in August on the second floor above Time-Out on the Court recreation center.

        Burbank's Southern Grill restaurant will reopen next to Bass Pro in November, across from Ruby Tuesday's.

        These merchants will join existing tenants, such as Bigg's, Guitar Center, Elder-Beerman, Berean Christian Stores, Super Saver Cinemas and Frederick's of Hollywood.

        “It will be outlets, it will be traditional. It will be a mix,” Mr. Goldsmith said.

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