CINCINNATI - The new owners of Tri-County Mall took their first tour of property Saturday, vowing to make “significant” investments in marketing and tenant improvements in coming months.
“We want to return it to its glory days of prominence in the community,” said Neil Bush, the brother of former President George W. Bush and chairman of Singapore –based SingHaiyi Group, an investor in the property.
Neil Bush is also a director of American Pacific International Capital Inc. of Portland, Ore., which was the winning bidder at a Hamilton County sheriff’s auction in July. The group bought the mall for $45 million. APIC President Wilson Chen said SingHaiyi was involved in the transaction from the beginning.
Chen accompanied Bush on a tour of the Tri-County Mall Saturday. The duo met with Springdale Mayor Doyle Webster and Economic Development Director Jeff Tulloch before hosting a 2 p.m. concert by singer Andy Grammer. The free concert was one of several promotional activities planned by the mall and its retailers to celebrate the ownership change.
“They’ve got the opportunity there to create something very unique,” Mayor Webster said. “I hope they realize the potential.”
Springdale city officials advised the new owners that specialty grocers like Trader Joe’s and Earth Fare would bring additional traffic to the mall. Webster also pitched the idea of opening up several of the mall’s entry ways to give it a lifestyle center feel while retaining the enclosed mall to keep anchors and specialty shops in tact.
“They seemed to reach out to our input and we weren’t shy about providing it,” Webster said.
Troubled Financial Past
Tri-County Mall has been stuck in limbo for several years because investors who paid $179.5 million for the property in 2005 ended up defaulting on more than $200 million in debt. A trustee for lenders filed for foreclosure in April, 2012, leading to sheriff’s auction sale in July.
The mall was operated for 16 months by a court-appointed receiver, E3 Realty Advisors. Hamilton County Judge Steven Martin ordered the property transferred to the new ownership group effective Sept. 27.
Court records indicate E3 Realty signed one new tenant and amended 45 leases during its management of Tri-County Mall. Eight tenants left the mall during that period. As of Sept. 24, the receiver said one new tenant and three lease renewals are awaiting final documentation, while six lease renewals were awaiting the approval of new owners.
The 1.3 million square foot mall was more than 30 percent vacant in July, Chen told WCPO at the time.
Can Bush Involvement Lure Tenants?
Chen said Saturday that he expects the mall will improve marketing efforts and make capital investments available for new tenants. Neither Chen nor Bush would say how much will be invested or what its leasing strategy will be.
Mayor Webster said he is hoping Bush’s notoriety will have an impact on leasing.
“He can certainly open up some doors,” Webster said. “People are going to take his phone calls where they wouldn’t take yours or mine.
Bush said the mall is the first U.S. investment for SingHaiyi Group, which raised more than $200 million on the Singapore stock market in June for the purpose of investing in distressed U.S. real estate assets.
Bush is the third of five children in the family of Barbara and George Bush, the 41st president of the United States. His brother, George W. Bush, was president from 2001 to 2009.
The Bush family has extensive political and business ties to the Tri-State. Cincinnati was home to three of the 20 most lucrative zip codes for George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential campaign. In the 1990s, Cincinnati business leaders Bob Castellini, Mercer Reynolds and Bill DeWitt were all part of George W. Bush’s ownership group with the Texas Rangers.
Neil Bush said he sought advice from several Cincinnati friends before taking the plunge on Tri-County, including Forte Industries Chief Operating Officer Dick LaJoie and Dick Lynch, a business leadership expert and founder of a nonprofit called Impact Players.
“They said their wives come to this mall. They come to this mall like six times a year. I said, ‘It must be in a good neighborhood if my friends are coming here,’" Bush said. "So, we’re just going to do what we can to increase the traffic.”