With the sale of Mayberry Mall all but assured, the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners officially rescinded an order Monday night which would have closed the local shopping center on Feb. 1 for public safety reasons.
The potential acquisition of the mall by a South Carolina shopping center developer, first reported last week, was confirmed at Monday’s meeting, originally set for Thursday night but rescheduled due to snow.
“We do have a signed contract,” that developer, T. Scott Smith, said during a scheduled discussion on the mall’s fate which led to the unanimous action by the city board that will keep it open.
Smith only recently became interested buying Mayberry Mall, a center built in 1968 which has fallen into a state of disrepair in recent years with a leaky roof and other issues.
The pending deal excludes a freestanding Belk department store there which is separately owned and a former Kmart location, earlier condemned, that has been eyed for possible acquisition by the Rural King farm products chain.
An ongoing failure by present mall owner Mike Kohan of New York to correct the structural deficiencies led to the Feb. 1 order to vacate the mall being issued by the Surry County building codes administrator, under the city commissioners’ authority.
Legal issues linger
Smith made known his interest in the shopping center to city officials earlier this month and his negotiations with Kohan subsequently resulted in the sales contract.
But City Attorney Hugh Campbell pointed out at Monday’s meeting that the timetable required for the acquisition process would extend past the Feb. 1 date. He explained that Smith must “kick the tires” of the property and undergo various due-diligence steps to close the sale, which include environmental studies to assess water damage and mold.
Another concern voiced Monday night was the welfare of those operating businesses at Mayberry Mall, who have faced months of uncertainty and were remaining under the cloud of the Feb. 1 order to vacate.
“None of the tenants know what to do,” Commissioner Jim Armbrister said, “other than plan for the worst.”
Armbrister and other commissioners expressed a desire to reach some resolution Monday night with the official closure order, to at least allow the merchants to know what direction to take.
“If we don’t have a positive answer, they need to know what to do on Feb. 2,” Armbrister said.
“We need to do something,” Commissioner Shirley Brinkley agreed, saying the situation has been “unnerving” for the tenants. “We need to let some of these people sleep.”
After further discussion in open session, the board opted — under the advice of the city attorney — to hold an impromptu closed session to discuss certain legal issues surrounding the matter before making any decision to rescind the order.
Officials including the council, fire chief, fire marshal, county building codes administrator and city manager then met behind closed doors for about 45 minutes as audience members including mall personnel waited anxiously in the main meeting room.
When the commissioners returned, they voted 5-0 to rescind the closure order.
This action includes setting aside a 30-day period for Kohan and Smith to erect a fire barrier between the Kmart portion and a former Radio Shack space, also being eyed by Rural King, from the rest of the shopping center.
Campbell explained that this will allow the South Carolina developer to obtain insurance for the remaining portion and proceed with his plans.
Smith said his firm is not having to pay a lot to acquire the mall, but will be making a sizable investment to return it to a structurally sound condition through repairs.
“We didn’t come into this contract with our eyes shut,” Smith told Mount Airy officials. “We know what we have to do.”
The developer declined to disclose the purchase price to a reporter.
”But it will come out when we close (on the property),” said Smith, who indicated that he didn’t know of anything that would derail this transaction.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.