Mall owner sees promise ahead

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Today the Sun-Gazette continues its annual review of the past year’s major news stories.)

Have rumors over the demise of the Lycoming Mall been greatly exaggerated?

As anchor stores such as Macy’s and J.C. Penney shuttered their doors and Sears announced plans in the fall to leave in early 2018, many wondered: What will happen to the mall?

Michael Kohan, president of Kohan Retail Investment Group, made it clear the shopping venue it owns is not closing.

“Absolutely not,” he said, when asked in mid-December.

In fact, Kohan said he was looking to bring stores to the mall, including into those vast empty spaces where the big-box retailers were located.

“We are in discussion,” he said without being specific. “We have not inked a deal yet.”

Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Jason Fink said he had no knowledge of Kohan’s plans for the mall.

He noted that Kohan and his business group have been known to buy malls only to re-purpose them.

Kohan was dismissive when asked about the possibility of turning the mall into a casino or for some other use as has been rumored.

“A casino is a long shot,” he said. “You have to get a license.”

Ten licenses for locating Category 4 casinos are available from the state with Lycoming County seen as a potential spot for a gambling venue.

A number of local municipalities voted to opt out of becoming one of those sites.

The mall is located in Muncy Township, which has not voted to prohibit a casino in its community.

In fact, township Supervisor Thomas Schaech said it would be “shortsighted to do so.”

He added he’s open to any “adoptive use” of the mall as long as it meets zoning requirements.

“A vacant building is not doing any good to anybody,” he said.

Schaech said if the mall closes, the property owner would still have to pay real estate taxes.

But the township as a whole would surely experience economic loss, particularly some of the businesses located around the mall.

“There would be an indirect loss,” he said. “It’s hard to measure that.”

He noted that the former Macy’s site is not owned by Kohan’s group and could be bought by another entity.

Geisinger Health System officials have repeatedly dismissed rumors that they are eyeing taking over the mall property.

Fink indicated there is certainly reason to believe the mall will remain open for quite some time.

He noted the number of stores continuing to do business there, including Dick’s Sporting Goods.

“It would be tough to close the mall,” he said.

Kohan Retail Investment Group bought the mall for a reported $26.35 million in 2016 from Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust.

Meanwhile, Fink dismissed talk of an Amazon operation moving into the former Grizzly building near the mall.

“That, I can tell you, is not happening,” he said.