Finish Line, a sport shoe apparel firm, has shut down its operations in Mount Berry mall.
The company based in Indianapolis was acquired by British retailer JD Sports Fashion last summer in a deal that was valued at $558 million, or $13.50 per share. At the time, officials with the retailer said the deal would enable them to better compete with other players in the athletic shoe apparel sector.
There was speculation for several months leading up to the sale that another company may have been poised to acquire Finish Line, but in the end it was JD Sports Fashion that got the deal done. Economic analysts had long argued that Finish Line had been experiencing difficulties with lagging traffic in many other mall locations across the county.
The closure of the Mount Berry mall store follows a trend that goes back as far as 2016 when the company revealed plans, well in advance of the British takeover, to close up to 25 percent of its retail location across the country
John Mulherin, vice president for governmental relations with the Hull Property Group which owns the mall, was not aware of the specifics of the decision to close the Finish Line in Rome.
"I think that's going to be seen across a lot of portfolios," Mulherin said. "Any retailer that is thinking maybe about closing stores or not renewing leases, they'll try to stay open throughout the holiday sale season and then you start seeing notices come out after that. It's pretty typical in January.”
Mulherin said Hull officials are still negotiating with officials in Rome for a Tax Allocation District financial assistance plan for the mall property. He indicated last year that the company wants to demolish 107,000 square feet of the Mount Berry mall and said he hoped to mobilize crews from Dalton as soon as they complete downsizing of the Walnut Square mall. The Sears end of that mall is already down and crews are getting ready to take down the old JC Penney end of Walnut Square.
"Again, we're getting it right-sized. What 80,000 square foot retailers are there? You've got to get rid of the chronic vacancy and that helps you with your overall mall vacancy number," Mulherin said.
The plan in Rome is to take down the Sears end of Mount Berry and redevelop acreage on the north end of the mall. When HPG submitted the TAD request in June of last year, the vacancy rate at Mount Berry mall was 37 percent.
Mulherin said that once a TAD plan is agreed upon, the pressure is entirely on the developer/property owner because there is no financial assistance if there is not any redevelopment.
"If we do, good for us, because the city is going to get the sales tax. If we don't it's just an investment we made that doesn't pay off. The community will still get the taxes that it's always gotten," Mulherin said.
Hull Property Group is seeking a little more than $1.14 million in TAD assistance spread out over 15 years.
The primary focus for Mulherin and the Hull Property Group is to hold on to the merchants they've already got.
"When these small shop tenants are looking to renew some individual in Chicago or New York who doesn't know where Dalton or Rome is, he or she is just looking at a sheet of paper that says 47 percent vacant or 19 percent vacant. What's your reaction going to be," Mulherin said. “If not, eventually the vacancy will overpower it and the vacancy will overpower it and you'll end up completely blighted with everybody got and that's not in anybody's interest."
Assistant Rome City Manager Patrick Eidson said the city is still awaiting a response from HPG on the most recent round of negotiations regarding details of the financing package.