20190220-bc-easthillsmall

Ownership of East Hills Mall reverted this week to the Modesto-based supermarket company that sold it -- or tried to sell it -- to Bakersfield investors with a dream of tearing down and redeveloping the dilapidated property.

In the end, the dilapidated, weed-strewn property that is East Hills Mall boomeranged on its former owner.

Modesto-based The Save Mart Cos. Inc., still owed money from local investors with lofty plans to demolish and redevelop the mall, recently bought back the 350,500-square-foot property rather than auction it off on the steps of Bakersfield City Hall.

Purchase price: $10. That sum also wipes away the sellers' debt of more than $7.7 million to Save Mart.

The sale by Bakersfield-based City Lights LLC and Mark Chris Investments LLC, recorded Monday after an agreement was reached late last month, throws a wrench in an ambitious proposal city officials had hoped would result in the novel reuse of one of the city's most prominently blighted properties.

"The transfer of the property is an unfortunate turn of events and means that the developer will not be moving forward with immediate demolition of the mall and redevelopment of the site as was previously promised," Bakersfield Assistant City Manager Jacqui Kitchen wrote in an email late Thursday.

"However, the City is still very supportive of redevelopment of the site as we have been from day 1," she continued. "I am still a major advocate for a mixed-use concept on the site, and I see this change in ownership as an opportunity. Clearly the traditional shopping center concept proposed almost two years ago did not close tenant leases in this new market reality."

Kitchen suggested that the site needed something more innovative and responsive to the new market trends.

"I encourage the ownership to rethink the layout and develop a concept that blends retail with restaurants, entertainment, housing, education and more," she said. "This site is so unique within Bakersfield, and with the right concept and investment it can be something iconic and truly remarkable."

The local investment group did not respond to repeated requests for comment over a two-day period.

Save Mart spokeswoman Stacia Levenfeld said it's too early to know what's ahead for the mall property.

“We have controlled the property for a couple of days and we’re assessing all of our options,” she said.

The collapse of the development illustrates the challenges shopping center developers face in the age of e-commerce. Many retailers that have traditionally leased space in malls are now pulling back and instead investing in online sales.

Once a bustling mall, East Hills faltered after losing key tenants Gottschalks and Mervyn's in the early days of the Great Recession. Hopes for its redevelopment were complicated by the property's split ownership.

Local developers Craig Carver, Grant Carver, Chris Hayden and Mark Shuman agreed in December 2016 to pay then-owner Save Mart $8.75 million for the mall. But rather than insist on outside financing, the Modesto grocery chain agreed to finance the purchase in exchange for a $1 million down payment.

The local group proposed to tear down the property and replace it with an open-air shopping, dining and entertainment center. City officials supported the concept, even as they became increasingly concerned about the property's deteriorating condition and signs it had become a de-facto shelter for people with nowhere else to live. Meanwhile, scheduled opening dates came and went without noticeable progress.

Records show City Lights and Mark Chris missed a $7.5 million loan payment on June 29, 2018. That led Save Mart to declare them in default in January, initiating foreclosure proceedings.

Auctions of the property were repeatedly scheduled and postponed in recent months, raising expectations the parties were either working out new financing terms or the property's sale to an outside entity.

But on Wednesday, an auction that had been set for 10 a.m. was cancelled, not postponed, which suggested some sort of deal had been reached. Not until Thursday, when the sale transaction showed up on the county Assessor-Recorder's office, did it become clear the local investors had thrown in the towel and ownership had reverted to Save Mart.

John Cox can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf.

(9) comments

calredhed67

It was NOT sold for $10.00. I wish the Californian would do their homework. This was a Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure. This means, essentially, that instead of being foreclosed upon, the property was deeded back to the original owners. The $10.00 mentioned in the document is old, boilerplate, turn of the century language that can be found on several real estate documents.

Concerned Citizen of Bakersfield

They paid too much

KenWitham

I think a nicer warehouse concept than FoodMaxx (a brand owned by SaveMart) could do well there. Whether they convince Costco or Sam's Club or create their own club, I think that as an anchor with nicer fast food and fast casual restaurants could do well on that site. A movie theater would be nice, but it isn't necessary. Also, if they could figure out a mixed use like "The Collection" in Oxnard, I think that could do well, too.

Donna

I agree 💯 the property is large enough to not only house homles but have classrooms/training etc. So many possibilities

scottybob

Good place for a temporary homeless shelter instead of destroying another city park.

BakoGuy805

Time to call code enforcement on the former owner for their $10 prize.

SardonicWisdom

[beam][beam]

Jerry Todd

Back in the 1960's to 1974, I did acquisitions and packaging of investment properties for real estate syndicates in northern California. Lost my butt in 1973 and ended up in Bakersfield with the only job offer I got. At that time John Brock was busy putting East Hills Mall together. I made an appointment with him and suggested that he had a bad location and that he should work out a deal with Chevron for properties around Hwy 178 and Morning Drive. Morning Drive made easy access from the south. He could create a development environment that wasn't surrounded by existing development of every imaginable level of quality and property value as the EHM locale. He thought I was just trying to get a listing. I had evaluated several sites in the Sn Fernando Valley and even Santa Barbara that were big time losers. I was just trying to pass along some experience. Seems like a good place to gather street folks that the Democrats have foisted on us, the illegals and mentally ill who need care. Plenty of square footage and plumbing. Even a theater. Just NIMBY, right?

bakersman

righty O ! but fyi the whole city is a dump at least theres nearby oil so total implosion might take awhile

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