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Mall insecurity

Kim Leonard
| Wednesday, May 10, 2006 12:00 a.m

Signs inside the Parkway Center Mall urge visitors to “Shop our 3-level mall” — although the first floor is being emptied, the second has several vacancies and the third is “temporarily closed,” say signs blocking the stairs and escalator.

Only a few first-floor merchants remain in the complex off the Parkway West. Some said owner Kossman Development Co. told them in February that the bottom level will close by late June, and that they could move upstairs or to another of the company’s retail centers.

Dance instructor Rosalene Kenneth chose the second option and hopes to open her new studio by July 5 at the Chartiers Valley Shopping Center in Collier.

“We were very happy here, for many years,” Kenneth said of her Parkway Center location, which sits at the back of a nearly deserted first-floor food court.

Kossman hasn’t told tenants what it will do with the first level, said Kenneth, “but I’m sure they have big plans for it. They wouldn’t just leave all this empty.”

Kossman officials confirmed Tuesday that they are working to consolidate the mall’s traffic to the middle level by June 30, when asked about plans at the 24-year-old complex in the Greentree section of Pittsburgh.

“We are still promoting the mall as an active mall, and the available space there to tenants of all kinds,” said Steve Weisbrod, director of leasing for Kossman.

Parkway Center Mall opened with great expectations in November 1982 on the eastern end of the 100-acre Parkway Center office and hotel complex. Ramps to and from the Parkway West were built to give shoppers easy access.

Zayre and Gold Circle discount department stores, a David Weis Catalog Showroom and a Giant Eagle and Thrift Drug were among the early major tenants, surrounded by other well-known retailers including Famous Footwear, Minnesota Fabrics, Herman’s sporting goods and Thom McAn shoes.

While a Big Kmart and Giant Eagle remain as the mall’s largest stores, many other retailers have moved out in recent years. Phar-Mor’s bankruptcy emptied the large space that David Weis once occupied, CompUSA moved to Robinson, and an adjacent Syms clothing store also closed.

At Kossman’s request, Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority early last year deferred $6.4 million in repayments on two loans used to build the mall and highway ramps until 2009.

The mall was 52 percent vacant at that time, URA documents show, and Kossman said it wanted to delay the loan payments in order to make improvements and attract new tenants using discount/value theme.

Parkway Center’s first-floor Dollar Tree seems a natural fit for that concept. But after 15 years in the mall, the store will close Saturday because of the consolidation, manager Daylyn Henderson said.

“We always did well here,” she said. A new location outside the mall is being sought.

A first-floor H&R Block financial and tax preparation office already has shut down and will reopen after June 30 on the second floor. Mad Science, a learning center that opened in January, is moving to the old CompUSA training center on the third floor.

Parkway Center, just outside Downtown, seems like a good retail location, and Henderson wondered why the mall hasn’t attracted more new tenants. Traveling from Pittsburgh, “this is the first mall in the vicinity. This is the city mall,” she said.

Others share her view. “We are well aware the mall has had occupancy problems,” said John Hoy, regional vice president for Philadelphia-based Rubenstein Co., which owns four Parkway Center office buildings. “But it has top notch potential.”

Jerome Dettore, the URA’s executive director, noted, “The Kossmans are astute developers. … I have no doubt that they will reposition that mall and that it will be a productive piece of real estate.”

The site’s proximity to the city, South Hills and other suburbs should make it more attractive, because of rising gas prices and transportation costs, Dettore added.

Retail analyst Steve Baumgarten of the Parker/Hunter division of Janney Montgomery Scott in Pittsburgh said Robinson Town Centre and the adjoining Pointe at North Fayette — also off the Parkway West — have taken business away from older complexes such as Parkway Center Mall.

Also, modern “lifestyle centers” such as The Waterfront and the SouthSide Works, both a few miles from Parkway Center, tend to hurt older shopping destinations, he said.

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