MORROW Morrow Mayor Joseph “J.B.” Burke thought he had no reason to worry about the future of Southlake Mall.
Burke and other city officials had met with mall’s general manager, Judy Pritchett, and representatives from Birmingham-based mall owner Bayer Properties in the last month.
Morrow’s leaders continued to have talks with Bayer officials, as recently as Tuesday, and were left with the impression that the future might be bright for Southlake Mall. Burke said the mall’s representatives were “tightlipped” about their plans for the mall in one recent meeting, but he added city officials were not given the impression that any big news was on the horizon.
Then, they learned on Wednesday night that the mall had been scheduled to be sold to the highest bidder on the steps of the Clayton County courthouse a day earlier.
“I was completely surprised to learn about this and now I’m wondering, ‘Have I been duped here?’ ” said Burke.
If Southlake Mall cannot keep its doors open, it would be another blow for a city that is considered the commercial center of Clayton County.
Morrow City Manager Jeff Eady encouraged Burke and the city council to remain “confident and positive” about the mall in an email he sent out Thursday morning.
“A new owner could possibly be the best thing that could happen at this time,” Eady said in the email. “A new vision, a renewed energy, a new focus may come to the table along with new ownership. Hopefully, we will see new private-sector investment within the mall. Morrow is still a great place.”
Burke said a representative of Bayer Properties contacted Eady about the mall Monday and Tuesday. While the official told Eady a sale of the mall might be considered in the future, no mention of an impending sale was mentioned, the mayor said.
Eady was told the mall was turned over to a trust run by Delaware-based C-III Asset Management, LLC, while Bayer would continue to manage the retail center.
“They said they were going to continue operations at the mall with no changes, and that they were going to look at their options and do whatever was the best option for the mall, including selling it if they had to,” said Burke.
But, Southlake Mall was not listed among Bayer Properties’ belongings on its website on Thursday.
Eady told city leaders the C-III factor was discussed in a separate meeting he had Tuesday with the same Bayer officials, but the scheduled sale was again not mentioned.
“I'm confident he knew it was about to occur but never revealed the information,” said Eady in the email. “It just goes to show how close to the vest important information stays with the private sector.”
Pritchett and an attorney listed in a legal advertisement as handling the mall’s sale could not be reached for comment Thursday. The advertisement ran in Clayton News Daily’s legal section four times as a notice of sale under power between early January and the beginning of this month.
Burke said he was trying to reach out to Bayer officials to get answers Thursday afternoon.
Morrow’s retail sector has already been hit by the closures of several major stores in recent years. Morrow has lost “big box” stores such as Havertys, Toys R Us and Babies R Us to nearby McDonough. Southlake Mall also lost J.C. Penney’s, which also chose to move to Henry County.
Those four stores ended up together at the South Point Shopping Center in McDonough.
The issue has been enough of a concern to residents and business owners that some of them recently called on the city council and called on town leaders to work to bring in new businesses.
The council also had a discussion at a work session Tuesday night about “bringing business to Morrow,” at the request of Councilman Bob Huie.
And, now questions are arising about the future of the more-than-30-year old mall.
“I’m a little confused as what’s going on,” Burke said.