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Real Estate - Commercial

2017 Top Stories: No. 7 - New Owner Plans To Transform Mall

By Cece Nunn, posted Dec 15, 2017
Rouse Properties, which bought Independence Mall this year, is planning a major redevelopment of the Oleander Drive property. (File photo)

One of the most high-profile commercial properties in the Cape Fear region changed hands this year, and that means more changes are coming to Independence Mall in Wilmington.

The new owner of the mall is in the midst of planning the regional shopping center’s transformation, including rebranding the center as The Collection at Independence and aiming to remove sections of the mall’s interior to modernize the property.

Earlier this year, New York-based Rouse Properties purchased more than half of the mall, which in total includes more than 1 million square feet, in transactions that were valued at more than $54 million and included the Sears space, according to New Hanover County property tax records. The change came as the property was in the midst of foreclosure proceedings, resulting from the previous owners defaulting on a $110 million loan.

Brian Harper, CEO of Rouse Properties, recently shared more information on what his company wants to create with The Collection at Independence. “We are in the process of designing a plan that will transform the currently enclosed Independence Mall into a contemporary mixed-use center that will be rebranded as The Collection at Independence,” Harper said in an email. “This will consist of us removing sections of the mall’s interior to allow for exterior-facing retailer entrances and the construction of an engaging restaurant streetscape that will house several high-volume restaurants and first-to-market retailers.”

Harper said in the email that during Rouse’s planning phase for the mall, company officials “are working closely with the city to conceptualize how we can move forward with our vision to restore the shopping center to a position of prominence within the market.”

Although Harper said he could not comment on current lease negotiations, he could say that Rouse has received a high level of interest from tenants that would be new to Wilmington that want space at The Collection at Independence.

Harper said in the email that Rouse expects to be able to share more details about leasing activity at the mall, 3500 Oleander Drive, in the earlier part of next year.

When it comes to tenants, Rouse’s goal “is to have a diverse lineup of both best-in-class national brands and local concepts. We like our merchandising mix to offer a bit of everything – fashion, dining, lifestyle, entertainment, etc. We look for what’s missing in the market and make a commitment to fill that void. We are very proud of our relationships with small business owners in our markets and feel they are very important to our success,” Harper said.

Construction began on Independence Mall in 1977. In recent years, the retail landscape has changed, with some older companies feeling the heat from soaring online sales.

Asked about the retail industry in general, Harper expressed optimism.

“Our leasing statistics, sales and customer traffic are all strong, and we continue to innovate at our properties to ensure they stay this way. The headlines want you to believe that bricks-and-mortar retail days are numbered, but we see plenty of opportunities ahead,” Harper said.

In response to a question about whether Rouse might consider buying the Dillard’s and Belk properties at Independence Mall, Harper said, “We are very happy with what we have and are big fans of both Dillard’s and Belk. We are glad they are anchor tenants at this property.”

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