Economic Development

Southern Park Mall Rebuilds for Next 50 Years with DeBartolo Commons

BOARDMAN, Ohio – As the Southern Park Mall prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary next year, the demolition of one of the mall’s anchor spaces Saturday marked the beginning of a new era for the Boardman retail center.

By next fall, the space that once housed Sears and the outparcel that was home to the Sears Auto Center will be gone, replaced with DeBartolo Commons, a greenspace featuring a bandstand, athletic field and retail spaces along the mall’s exterior wall. 

Washington Prime Group, which owns the mall, is in talks with a fitness company that wants to open a space in DeBartolo Commons, although a letter of intent has yet to be signed. Also among the tenants will be a 37,000-square-foot indoor golf center with an accompanying restaurant.

“It’s a renovation of the entire asset as well as some new and interesting larger-scale retail,” said Lou Conforti, CEO of Washington Prime. “We’re working with Boardman to make it a town center, not just for Boardman but really the entire Youngstown area.”

Since Sears Holdings announced it would shutter the Boardman store in April 2018, Washington Prime has been working on a plan to redevelop the space. At that time, the developer said it would look into bringing “diversified tenants” to the mall and, in June, announced it would demolish the store for use as greenspace in a partnership with the township and DeBartolo-York family.

“As a testament to their philanthropy, my father and I have witnessed it firsthand. The generosity of the DeBartolo-York family has been instrumental regarding the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame of which my father, a former amateur boxer, serves on its board,” Conforti said in a statement. “Washington Prime Group is honored to be affiliated with this great family, and as importantly, to provide Greater Mahoning Valley with an amenity for all to enjoy.”

Washington Prime Group CEO Lou Conforti says the intention behind DeBartolo Commons is to create a town center for Boardman.

“It’s going to be the new anchor. Once we uncover what connects to the building, that will be remanufactured into exterior facing venues,” said Matt Jurkowitz, Washington Prime vice president of development. “You’ll see entertainment and restaurants. From our perspective, we think this will be an entertainment district on its own.”

Demolition began Saturday at Washington Prime’s Community Day at the mall. For safety reasons, only a small portion of the Sears building was torn down, with the rest to be taken down when fewer people are around. 

While Jurkowitz didn’t attach a solid number to the cost of the project, he said $30 million “is not outside the realm of what we’re willing to do. Some of our plans will evolve over time, but it’s certainly in that realm.”

He added, “It will be a substantial investment.”

Such a project, one that forgoes retail space for a community area, is the future of the industry, observed Conforti. It isn’t enough to offer consumers a place to buy things. Mall owners have to offer experiences and things to do.

“The entire industry has been, frankly, myopic in not understanding that this is about creating a town center. That includes greenspaces. It includes entertainment,” Conforti said after the demolition began. “There’s a symbiotic relationship between indoor and outdoor, just like there’s a symbiotic relationship between physical and e-commerce. … We’re social animals and we like hanging out. We want to give you that place to hang out.”

A rendering of DeBartolo Commons and a redeveloped Southern Park Mall includes greenspace and retail spaces along the mall’s exterior wall.

The space is named for Edward DeBartolo Sr., who developed Southern Park Mall and whose company developed hundreds of retail spaces across the United States. Such a development, said Boardman Township trustee chairman Larry Moliterno said, serves as a way to honor the man who set in motion the development of modern Boardman.

“Fifty years ago, Mr. DeBartolo had a vision and built this facility. This community was built around that,” Moliterno said. “It’s been an important part of our history for the past 50 years and it’s great that the folks from Washington Prime have a vision for the next 50 years. This will continue to be an important place for Boardman Township”

While the township, especially the U.S. Route 224 corridor, is most often associated with business, Moliterno notes that Boardman is fairly evenly split between residential and commercial areas. The addition of DeBartolo Commons will be another space for the community to gather, not unlike Boardman Park or Spartan Stadium across Market Street.

“Yes, we do a lot of business here and we like to support businesses here, but we’re also a community that’s made up of a lot of great neighborhoods,” he said. “It’s where people can come a socialize and spend time together as a community and really bond. They do it Friday nights at the stadium and this will be another space for them to do that.”

Pictured at top: Demolition began Saturday on the former Sears space at Southern Park Mall. Replacing it will be the DeBartolo Commons greenspace, featuring a stage and athletic field.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.