Southlake Mall confident about future

By Ed Brock

Sitting outside Southlake Mall in the summer heat, 13-year-old Rodrick Hill summed up his preference of indoor malls to outdoor malls.

"It's cool in there," Hill said, pointing languidly at the mall entrance.

Southlake Mall is still working on filling the hole left by the closing of the Macy's store there but the mall's manager says he's confident that the future is bright.

And plans to build a new, possibly million-square-foot outdoor mall in McDonough doesn't shake that confidence, Southlake Mall Manager Cris Burgum said.

"That mall is going to be 15 miles south of us and it's going to pull primarily from Henry County," Burgum said. "We think it's going to be more of a complement."

Last year the Macy's store at the mall was one of several in the Atlanta metro area that was closed as part of Macy's merger with Rich's. For a while General Growth Properties, the company that owns Southlake, was negotiating with Dillard's Department Store to open in the empty spot, but Burgum said that deal fell through about three months ago.

But the search for a new tenant continues.

"We don't have anything concrete but we're working on some options," Burgum said.

Meanwhile, Burgum said, the mall is adding new, smaller stores, like the "Lids" hat store that opened earlier this year. In about 60 days a new Athlete's Foot shoe store will open in the mall and in mid-September a Leathermart leather apparel store will open.

Along with it's strong leasing position, Burgum said, the store has seen a 4 percent increase in sales over the last year and traffic through the mall is still good.

"We're fairly happy with how things are now," Burgum said.

Southlake Mall contributes around $3 million in sales tax to the city a year, Morrow City Manager John Lampl said. It's an important part of the community, and Lampl also said he thinks the mall will continue to thrive.

He's also not put off by the fact that the old Macy's store space has not been filled. The long search is just a natural result of the current market.

"There's not a lot of people trying to pick up 166,000 square feet at one time," Lampl said.

As for the continuing plans by a consortium of developers to build a "lifestyle" open air mall in Henry County, Lampl said he doesn't foresee much trouble from it.

The Henry County mall is expected to be called South Point and could open in spring of 2006, said Richard Lester of the Atlanta-based Richfield 81 Partners, LLC. The reported developers of the mall are Atlanta-based Cousins Properties Incorporated, Simon Property Group, Inc. and North American Properties.

The mall would sit on 90 acres on Ga. Highway 81 North and could include a movie theater.

Lampl said he's had no indication that the major retailers at Southlake, including Sears and Rich's, would move to the new mall if and when it opens.

"You're going to see the major players sitting over there (in Southlake) stay for a while," Lampl said.

For one thing, the stores have recently renovated the interiors of the stores at Southlake and moving to a new building would mean taking on additional overhead.

Also, Lampl believes that indoor malls like Southlake, have a proven track record and still have several advantages over open-air malls. An indoor mall can always expand to include an outdoor area while it is harder for outdoor malls to include enclosed spaces.

And, as Hill pointed out, indoor malls offer controlled environments during the heat of summer and the cold of winter, Lampl said.

Also shopping at Southlake on Sunday, Hannah Fraley, 69, of Jonesboro also said the air condition in the summer and heat in the winter drew her to indoor malls.

"And you don't have to walk as far from store to store," Fraley said.