June 30 – It was the year 1982 when the Chambersburg Mall officially opened. In the height of the days where families would spend Saturdays and Sundays shopping and listening to Tiffany think she’s alone now.
Today, a sign on the side of the door says The Mall is Permanently Closed.
Mike Ross, president of the Franklin County Area Development Corporation, said, “The mall was the go- to place for shopping. Because there was not the ability to sell alcohol and that dogged the mall and its performance I think since from the very beginning. I don’t think they ever really recovered from that, but having said that, it seemed to be doing okay. It went through some changes of ownership and it was never a focus. I don’t think folks could appreciate what was going on in terms of the growth taking place.”
So what will become of the area?
Ross said, “I’m in conversations with the Namdar folks on a regular basis and I was very clear you have a lot of reputational challenges to overcome in terms of what’s taking place here and the lack of investment or concern over the last several years. But they’ve restructured their focus.”
Namdar, the current owner of the mall, has about 250 properties across the county and about 30 or 40 of those are not performing.
Ross said, “They are looking to partner with developers. They have not identified those developers yet, to come in and work on repurposing the mall, probably in some type of mixed use arrangement. It could be a combination of housing, health care, retail. Some of the developers they are talking to have strong reputations in being able to do it. It’s the first time in the last seven or eight years where there’s a real focus.”
What the end development will be remains to be seen.
Ross said, “What it won’t be is an industrial site. The township is not going to change the zoning to allow for industrial use. They had a number of industrial developers who will do the big box distribution who approached the ownership about acquiring it and we’ll tear down the existing structures, build a million square foot distribution center and off we go. That’s not going to happen. So you don’t have that easy sale and done. So now you’re going to have to work to redevelop it in the best interest of the community.”
For nostalgic purposes, the anchor stores in the Chambersburg Mall at one point were Hess’s and Gee Bee. In 2009, the Chambersburg Mall was declared one of the 10 most endangered malls in the country.
Namdar paid more than $8 million for it.
Add to that the fact that Scotland School for Veterans Children will be auctioned off in July, and there could be a lot of changes coming to the area.
Ross said, “I think from my perspective that may be a more challenging redevelopment project than the mall. It’s a large property. When operating as an educational institution in that environment and being maintained, it’s a beautiful location. It’s got a lot of possibilities. But having said that, it’s got infrastructure challenges.”
Pat Ryan of NewsTalk 103.7FM suggested, “Mercersburg 2.0, take that. How about Mercersburg Academy North?”
Ross said, “That’s an interesting concept. I’ll let you talk to the academy folks about that. You’re going to have a hard time getting through on that. I think it has various possibilities that range from housing to health care, to maybe veteran services, I think senior living, there’s a lot of possibilities there.”
Keep in mind the campus is almost 170 acres, a railroad goes through the campus and a number of buildings are in disrepair.
Ross noted, “I think you’re going to be looking at environmental remediation on asbestos and lead paint. All things are possible with time and money. So I think it can be redone and repurposed. I think if you get the right investors actually that could be really phenomenal.”