Last redevelopment plan for Tri-County Mall was ‘spectacularly aggressive’ & fizzled out. Here’s what’s next.

SPRINGDALE, Ohio — Time has expired for the billion-dollar plan to turn Tri-County Mall into Artisan Village, now that two Texas developers have missed a July 3 deadline to reclaim the property from their Utah-based lender.

And that means Stuart Lichter is just getting started.

“I’m familiar with the area from when this was a great mall,” said Lichter, president of California-based Industrial Realty Group. “It’s kind of sad what happened but I still think the highway intersections and this community (enable) uses that would work there. It’s a good piece of real estate.”

Lichter has a national reputation for redeveloping large industrial properties, including the Batavia transmission plant that Ford Motor Co. closed in 2006 and the Hall of Fame Village in Canton. He’s been active in Cincinnati since the late ‘90s, when he turned a former Kroger candy plant into the region’s first Dave & Busters on a site that shares one of its borders with the mall.

Lichter entered the Tri-County Mall redevelopment mix late last year, as Reef Private Credit pursued its foreclosure lawsuit against Houston-based MarketSpace Capital and Park Harbor Capital of Dallas.

The Texas developers borrowed $28 million to acquire Tri-County Mall in 2022. They quickly won tax incentives and zoning approvals for Artisan Village, a 2,600-unit apartment community with a 5-acre dog park, outdoor entertainment venues, restaurants and other amenities. But they ran into trouble in 2023 when rising interest rates and other problems made it difficult to secure new financing to repay Reef.

Ultimately, the lender won a May 2 court order to claim ownership of the site. But it also signed a settlement agreement that gave the Texas developers two months to reclaim the property. That ended without a deal on July 3, according to Lichter and Michael VanHuss with Park Harbor Capital.

Now that he’s convinced Reef holds clear title to the property, Lichter hopes to negotiate a deal that gives him control of the site. And he hopes to follow that with a development agreement with the city of Springdale.

Although he submitted a site plan to the city in December, Lichter has yet to formally commit to any potential uses at Tri-County Mall.

“I do think it can be a substantial apartment community with some retail attached to it,” Lichter told the I-Team. “I think the previous plan was spectacularly aggressive for what the market is.”

But he’s already missed an opportunity to bring his first big deal to the site: An exhibit space to claim consumer shows that showcase cars, boats and companies marketing travel, home and garden services.

Lichter thought it would work since the Duke Energy Center is closing for renovations “and there’s a trend in the country anyway of those shows to prefer suburban locations.”

On June 3, Lichter and Reef asked the city of Springdale to modify its PUD, or planned-unit development plan, for Artisan Village. He wanted to renovate the former Tri-County Sears store to accommodate a Christmas holiday bazaar and other events from November to April.

“This use is intended to be immediate and complementary to the existing PUD,” said the request. “(It) will provide a revenue stream during planning, design and permitting and demolition of the overall development.”

The modification was scheduled for a public hearing on July 9, but IRG and Reef withdrew the proposal after City Planner Ann McBride determined the request should be considered a major amendment to the original plan. That meant it would be subject to additional scrutiny from the city.

“To retain the existing Sears building as a ‘meeting facility/exhibition center’ is a change of use,” McBride wrote. “This general area was designated for 330 multifamily units, green space, 210,000 square feet of science/medical use and a grocery story on the approved preliminary development plan.”

Beachwood-based Marketplace Events announced the Sharonville Convention Center would host its Greater Cincinnati Holiday Market this year.

“We stopped pursuing that when it became apparent that the trade shows could not afford to wait any longer,” Lichter said. “Whether that is a use for the property or not, I think is questionable.”

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