Tuesday, June 10, 2003

New owners reshape, rename Forest Fair

By Sue Kiesewetter
Enquirer contributor

FAIRFIELD - When Forest Fair Mall reopens in 2004 as Cincinnati Mills after a $70 million facelift, it won't look anything like Tri-County Mall to its east or Northgate Mall to its west.

Representatives of the Mills Corp., who bought the mall last fall for $69.4 million, introduced themselves and their vision for the mall Monday to the Fairfield Board of Education.

The project could bring some unique educational opportunities to residents in the area. It also could bring traffic woes, at least one board member said.

The mall owners plan to partner with the Fairfield, Winton Woods and Northwest Local schools and might offer a job training program on site that could help take people off welfare.

"If we don't have good workers The Mills won't succeed," said Carolyn A. Lange, a vice president for Arlington, Va.-based Mills Corp.

Also being studied is setting aside an area for a reading project, A Place to Grow, similar to those established in other Mills properties. A final decision will depend on budgetary issues.

The mall is expected to have a mix of tenants not yet seen in the area, said Lange.

Although each of the firm's 13 mall properties share some qualities - most notably the mix of shopping and entertainment - Lange said each project would be customized to reflect the region.

"We're different from the typical regional malls," Lange said. "The exterior will have art, graphics, and colors. We try to dress up the exterior. Each one of our centers is customized to the local region."

Envisioned for the 1.8-million-square-foot mall is the center court that will be made to appear like a main street. Other themed wings will take on the feel of "neighborhoods," each with its own retail or entertainment offerings.

The mall would be anchored by several 20,000-square-foot or larger stores including Bigg's, Bass Pro Shop and some not yet identified. The closing of Elder-Beerman leaves another spot to be filled. Several specialty shops and entertainment ventures would fill the remaining space.

Lange said the project is bringing about 1,500 construction jobs to the area, and once Cincinnati Mills is open they expect to bring 3,000 part-time and full-time jobs during the regular season, and more during the Christmas season. Lange said a grand opening was likely sometime in spring 2004.

Fairfield School Board President Anne Crone said she was concerned about traffic.

"Getting in and out now is a real issue," Crone said.

Lange said a traffic study showed the infrastructure is there to support traffic, but said the signage is bad and the garage is underutilized.

"That's a fix we want to make," Lange said. "We want to enhance security. We're very focused to make sure people are safe."

The firm is talking with the Port Authority, Hamilton County, Butler County, Cincinnati, Forest Park, Fairfield and the three school districts in an effort to establish a tax increment financing (TIF) district. Forest Park City Manager Ray Hodges said the firm was interested in establishing the TIF to pay off debt for $19 million of improvements in the parking garage and parking lots.

E-mail suek@infionline.net

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