University Mall recieves a makeover

By Gus Bode

Renovations for University Mall in the works

Upgrade brings new movie theater, stores, jobs for college students

University Mall is getting a new look in the form of renovations that began Monday as a result of the mall coming under new management.


The 28-year-old mall will undergo three phases of construction slated to be finished no later than spring 2004, according to general manager Debbie Tindall.

This is going to present an economic boom from the standpoint of construction jobs in Carbondale over a year or two, Tindall said. And more college jobs will be available.

With current plans, Tindall said the former Montgomery Ward store will be torn down to make room for an eight-screen Kerasotes movie theater that will take up half the building, while two new big box retailers will occupy the other half.

Tindall said those involved in the planning are not announcing who the new retailers are, but she said they have already signed contracts to build. She added that big box retailers are ones such as Best Buy, while Wal-Mart is listed as a discount store.

Their presence is not yet in Southern Illinois. They’ll be new to the market, Tindall said. You’ll find one of them in St. Louis and the other one you might find in Chicago.

Robbie Oppenheim, senior vice president for BayView Financial Trading Group Oppenheim, said the names of the stores should be released in the next three to four months.

Oppenheim said the sale of the 703,000-square-foot mall was completed Friday after about three months of negotiations between Bank of America Property, Inc. and the mall’s new owner, BayView Financial Trading Group. The deal includes 11.2 acres of property surrounding the mall, which, along with the mall itself, has been for sale for nearly four years.


Oppenheim said the mall and its surrounding property were sold to his company for $17.5 million. He added that BayView Financial purchased the mall with the same intentions as other real estate it buys throughout the country for the purpose of redevelopment and improving its assets.

Obviously, we feel like the college is important to the mall, and vice versa, he said. The demographics are nice, and being in a college town provides the opportunity to be in a stable market.

The construction is scheduled to take place in three phases so stores in the mall do not have to close for the renovations. The first phase started Monday and involves the demolition of the former Montgomery Ward store. This is scheduled to take a month. Phase two involves the demolition of the stores in the Southern Illinois Health Care area of the mall, some of which have been unoccupied for more than two years. Then a new food court will be built in the area.

The new food court and theater will be open by May of next year if we can stay on construction schedule, Tindall said. In 2003, we’ll start the demolition of the old food court and build new stores.

The building of new stores is part of phase three, and Tindall said it should take about six to eight months.

Without question, this will add jobs, Tindall said. We have one store, Wet Seal [a junior misses fashion retailer], and we’re hoping to have them open before the year is out.

When Old Navy opened in the mall, it interviewed for positions two months prior. Tindall said the same could be expected for the new stores.

She also said the theater project has been in the works for two years, and it will have new features such as stadium seating and state-of-the-art sound systems.

There is no stadium seating in Southern Illinois, Tindall said. This is a grade-up, a new opportunity and a new draw for the University Mall.

Oppenheim said Kerasotes, which also owns University Place 8 and Varsity Theatre, will own the new theater.

Tindall said with new stores and a fresh look, the growth of the mall will continue to expand after the majority of the construction is finished in late 2003 or early 2004.

At that point, we’ll be very well-postured to continue to add new, fresh and exciting store concepts to the mall to fill up the remainder of the spaces that have been vacant, Tindall said. This is all about growth.