Stonecrest mayor: Possible mall foreclosure not a ‘death sentence’

The Mall at Stonecrest. (VIA CITY OF STONECREST)

The Mall at Stonecrest. (VIA CITY OF STONECREST)

The Mall at Stonecrest is in tough financial straits.

Business news site Bisnow reported last week that the mall in southeastern DeKalb County, which has had debt issues since 2013, is again facing foreclosure. It's a position with which struggling shopping centers across the country have grown familiar.

But Stonecrest Mayor Jason Lary says there’s no reason to panic.

“Foreclosure is a financial process,” Lary said Friday. “It’s not a death sentence.”

A $92 million loan on a portion of the mall is in distress and recent efforts to sell that mortgage to another investor fell through, according to the report. That presents the imminent threat of the loan being foreclosed upon and reclaimed by the lender, though mall officials said they’re working to avoid it.

» IN-DEPTH: Atlanta malls shop for Plan B as times get tougher

Jim Roberts is a senior vice president with Urban Retail Properties LLC, the Chicago-based firm that manages the Mall at Stonecrest.

“Ownership is currently working with the special servicer to extend the existing mortgage,” Roberts said in an email this week. “We hope to have additional news that we can share soon.”

Roberts declined to answer additional questions about the mall’s future but, as Lary pointed out, foreclosure doesn’t necessarily mean the mall would close any time soon.

With the rise of online shopping and other non-traditional retail, shopping malls across the United States have fallen on hard times. And while vacant storefronts, empty parking lots and financial struggles often persist, metro Atlanta malls from Southlake to Gwinnett Place have gone into foreclosure in recent years yet remained open for business.

In a Thursday afternoon Facebook post, Lary pointed out that mall anchor stores like Macy's and Dillard's own their own properties and aren't subject to "the mall's financial plights." And he said the city is "strategically planning viable economic development around the mall that will thrive and will help the mall thrive."

The city of Stonecrest is in the process of buying the shopping center's former Sears store, which closed in early 2018. Stonecrest envisions turning part of the building into a public safety complex, whether by rolling out its own police force or partnering with DeKalb County.

The city is also in talks to bring a local technical college into the building.

The floundering of the mall-adjacent megaproject known as Atlanta Sports City — a complex pitched to include dozens of sports fields, shops and restaurants — shows that dreams don't always come true.

Still, Lary said there’s reason for optimism, in and around the Mall at Stonecrest.

Local philanthropist and businessman Lecester "Bill" Allen recently secured $700 million in revenue bonds to build a project on 300 acres surrounding the mall (including the proposed site for Atlanta Sports City). He plans to build a complex that includes a 16-story hotel, an amphitheater and other mixed-use elements.

“Here’s a thing that you can bank on, sir,” Lary said. “We wouldn’t be buying the Sears building if we thought [the mall] was going under.”