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Dying North DeKalb Mall Poised For New Life Under New Owner Edens

Bert Ackermann bought a couch 10 years ago from the Macy's at North DeKalb Mall. The couch is still in Ackermann's living room in the Clairmont Heights neighborhood, but the Macy's is gone, as are many of the storefronts that made the mall, at one point, the shopping hub of Northeast Atlanta.

The deserted interior of North DeKalb Mall, which has been purchased by Edens.

“We're all watching that space and have watched it for a long as I've been here,” said Ackermann, the president of the Clairmont Heights Civic Association. "And I've watched it decline."

A product of the early days of the indoor mall boom in the mid-1960s, North DeKalb Mall is now a relic, with only a handful of retailers left in operation, including a comic book retailer and an AMC movie theater. The interior of the mall closed Oct. 1, according to a sign posted on its doors.

Despite repeated attempts by past owners to revive and redevelop the mall — including ballyhooed plans for a Costco that never materialized — local stakeholders now have renewed optimism for its future after retail developer Edens acquired the 630K SF mall, which sits on 77 acres on North Druid Hills Road, especially given Edens' history of genre-defining redevelopments in and around Washington, D.C.

“This is a generation-defining moment for this part of DeKalb,” DeKalb County Commissioner Ted Terry said. “[Edens'] mindset is exactly the mindset that we want for this project.”

Edens purchased North DeKalb Mall from Sterling Organization, and while the purchase price was undisclosed, the DeKalb County Tax Commissioner's office most recently assessed the property's value at $9.8M, down from $13.7M in 2012.

Since buying the property, Edens has kept quiet about what it intends to do with the mall, other than it plans a transformative project.

“For more than 50 years, North DeKalb has enjoyed a great history of commerce and a tradition of bringing people together,” Edens Senior Vice President Herbert Ames said in a Sept. 21 statement. “It is an honor to be its next steward, a pivotal role with considerable responsibility to transform a 77-acre infill site. We look forward to dialogue with the community as we look to reshape this place for the next 50 years.”

Edens executive met last week with Terry and DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader, whose districts cover the mall, about the developer's plans for the mall. In interviews with Bisnow, the two commissioners said Edens revealed few details during the meeting, except that it would likely be redeveloped into a mix of uses that would evolve over time. Edens declined to comment for this story.

“This site is not of a scale that could be fully developed, leased and stabilized in 18 months. This is going to take several real estate cycles to build out,” Rader said. “You need to have staying power, because the quantity and level of development that this site can hold can't be absorbed in a short period of time.”

Edens CEO Jodie McLean at the groundbreaking of a Union Market-area mixed-use project in 2016.

Edens owns a handful of properties in Atlanta, including the Toco Hills Shopping Center and Toco Hills Promenade less than 3 miles from the mall, acquiring them in 2015 and repositioning them with diverse and upscale retailers.

But Edens' specialty is transformative, retail-oriented redevelopments. It redeveloped Union Market in Northeast D.C. from a collection of wholesale retailers into a nationally recognized food hall, which spurred the development of thousands of apartments, a Trader Joe's and many more retail spaces. In Fairfax County, Virginia, Edens built Mosaic District, a mixed-use development that includes townhouses, apartments, a 150-room hotel, a Target and dozens of smaller retail spaces on the site of a former movie theater.

Under the leadership of CEO Jodie McLean, Edens has engaged in the development, redevelopment, acquisition and sales of more than $15B in retail assets, according to her online biography.

“McLean passionately believes that retail should evolve beyond a shopping experience and advocates for connectivity to the communities surrounding the company's retail centers,” Edens said in her bio. “To ensure this, each Edens development is crafted to serve as an authentic gathering place, including a unique merchandising mix and welcoming design elements, fostering a sense of engagement with its neighbors.”

Maura Brophy is president of the NoMa Business Improvement District, which is adjacent to Union Market, and said Edens' redevelopment of the market has had a sizable impact on the surrounding community. In 2010, there were fewer than 100 residents in NoMa. When Edens first opened Union Market, that number shot up to 2,500, Brophy said. Today, there are more than 12,000 residents, accounting for 30% of D.C.'s population growth in the latest census, Brophy said.

“The Union Market redevelopment led by Edens has fueled the phenomenal growth,” she said, adding that “most of the growth has happened in the adjacent neighborhoods."

Last week, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced that it planned to move its headquarters to NoMa, signing a 1.2M SF lease for a new headquarters a mile east of Union Market.

Edens controls the land and partnered with other developers to build the residential and office buildings now popping up around the market, and Brophy said the developer has behaved like it will continue to be a long-term owner; it is now planning to develop more pedestrian and transit infrastructure at the project.

“What I do know is I think they will be very much part of this neighborhood for a long time,” she said.

The storefront of Challenges Games and Comics, owned by Ted Cape, who said he wants to remain at the redevelopment of North DeKalb Mall.

Ackermann said he hopes Edens will improve the pedestrian experience around North DeKalb Mall, much like it did at the Mosaic District in D.C.'s suburbs, including improving trail access to the property.

“There's not really a walkable way to get to the mall area from our neighborhood,” Ackermann said. “[We want] definitely something that the community could collectively utilize: hangout space.”

Rader said that lack of pedestrian connectivity was one of the major reasons North DeKalb Mall could never halt its decline.

“I would argue that one of the reasons North DeKalb Mall is a dead mall now is because it doesn't do any of those things,” Rader said. “What we want is this to be a place for people to want to come to.”

Terry said he would like to see Edens partner with other organizations to offer discounted retail space for local entrepreneurs and boutique businesses to offset the national chains that would likely set up shop in the redevelopment. While Edens didn't mention any plans for a Union Market-style food hall, Terry said that could provide an ideal opportunity for local chefs to establish themselves.

“I'm a big fan of the food halls, especially if we can create that micro-commerce,” he said.

Regardless of what Edens does at the mall, Tony Cape just hopes his store gets to stay.

Cape owns Challenges Games and Comics, which has been at North DeKalb Mall for nearly 10 years. While Cape has an agreement with the previous owner to be part of the redevelopment, he has been given no such guarantee by Edens at this point, he said.

“I was basically informed that their game plan was to tear down the mall and do this whole mixed-use thing,” Cape Said. “I love this location. I definitely want to be part of the new setup.”