Originally created 01/27/99

New owner plans to improve mall



AIKEN -- For various reasons, a string of retailers left the Aiken Mall this decade. The holder of the mall's mortgage foreclosed on the mall a year ago.

But the mall's real problem, according to its new owners, was lack of attention, and they say they plan to eliminate that problem.

Aronov Realty Management Inc. purchased the mall earlier this month and it plans on being in for the long haul, said Jeff Weil, the company's senior vice president for acquisitions.

"It's an opportunity," he said. "The critical mass of retail is centralized between Whiskey Road, Pine Log Road and the mall, and the mall is definitely the focal point of the market for specialty retailers."

Aronov bought the property for $17 million from Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., which filed a $29 million foreclosure suit on the mall in January 1998 against Zamais Services. Zamais owned and operated the mall through a limited partnership.

Met Life is a quality company, but didn't put much effort into the mall because malls aren't its core business, Mr. Weil said.

"Met Life was not a long-term player, and they didn't have any long-term strategic plans," he said. In contrast, Aronov is a developer and an entrepreneur, he said. "You will see changes."

The mall is in pretty good shape aesthetically, Mr. Weil said, so Aronov's primary focus will be on leasing it out. Aiken Mall has been plagued with a string of vacancies that has kept it from reaching full occupancy.

Aronov will try to fill both of the existing vacant anchor store spaces as well as appeal to smaller-scale merchants, Mr. Weil said. The mall lost two of its original anchor stores, leaving only Sears, Belk and J.C. Penney.

The company was working on plans to market the mall before the acquisition was completed.

The company's goal will be to bring in more and better retailers and increase the mall's offerings, he said. Mr. Weil would not release specific details about the company's plans.

Aronov is based in Montgomery, Ala., and manages 75 shopping centers, 14 of which are malls.

Todd Bauer covers Aiken County and business issues for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.