Want to buy a shopping center? Fashion Square Mall auction

SAGINAW TOWNSHIP, MI — Once the retail centerpiece of the region, Fashion Square Mall itself will become a purchasable item for shoppers next month.

The Saginaw Township-based indoor shopping center — which remains open for business — will be available in an online auction beginning Monday, Aug. 22, according to the real estate firm-operated webpage overseeing the event.

The opening bid: $2.3 million.

“The 67% occupied mall enjoys a great mix of both national and local tenants and benefits from strong anchors such as Macy’s, JCPenney, AMC Theatre, and other surrounding retailers,” reads the marketing for the online auction.

News of the planned sale is not surprising to people familiar with the mall’s recent status. Officials with NAI Farbman, a Southfield-based commercial real estate development firm, last year said the company expected to put the property up for auction in 2022 on behalf of Wells Fargo.

NAI Farbman is listed as one of the online auction’s managers, along with Ten-X, an Irvine, California-based real estate firm.

The mall’s previous owner — Great Neck, New York-based Namdar Realty Group — in 2020 defaulted on $34.8 million in mortgage debt owed to Wells Fargo, setting up the lending giant to grab the property last year as part of a foreclosure auction.

Community leaders also were anticipating an ownership transition at the mall. The Saginaw Township Board of Trustees last fall finalized a community master plan that outlined a strategy for helping Fashion Square Mall’s next owners revitalize the nearly 50-year-old commercial property.

“While the current mall is almost entirely a retail district, future redevelopment of this collective district may include numerous non-retail — or even non-commercial — uses and concepts,” the new master plan states. “The township will continue engaging with stakeholders to consider proposals and investments beneficial to the community at the Fashion Square Mall district.”

Not all of the mall is available in the sale.

While most of the shops at the 100-unit mall are tenants, Macy’s owns its own box there.

Sears also owned its own box at the northernmost corner of the facility, although the store closed in 2019. Hoffman Estates, Illinois-based Transformco — which now owns Sears and its former space in the mall — hired Stokas Bieri Real Estate to sell the old Sears unit. The property remains up for sale.

Fashion Square Mall opened Oct. 4, 1972, when shoppers first stepped through the doors of the facility built on 71 acres of farmland.

At the time, anchor tenants JCPenney and Sears were the site’s main attractions. Other inaugural retailers included Town & Country Fashions, William C. Wiechmann Co., Bintz Sports, Carter Shop, Seitner’s, Alfano’s Stride Rite, and Tait’s Hobby Shop.

Fashion Square Mall swelled with customers during the mall boom that helped define American culture in the 1970s and ‘80s. In turn, the shopping center fed a hungry commercial district in Saginaw Township, attracting business growth down Bay and Tittabawassee roads during those early decades.

In 1993, a new food court was added, keeping customers fed during long sessions spent browsing stores.

Eight years later, the facility underwent a $10 million facelift that applied a 21st century sheen to its 1970s-built body.

Foot traffic thinned in recent decades, though, both as a result of the region’s shrinking populace as well as consumer buying habits shifting toward online stores.

In January 2001, Chattanooga-based CBL & Associates Property Inc. purchased the complex along with 20 other regional malls and two shopping centers from the mall’s original developer — Cleveland-based Richard E. Jacobs Group Inc. — for $1.2 billion.

Fifteen years later, the mall was sold in July 2016 to Namdar Realty Group — along with The Lakes in Muskegon — for an aggregate price of $66.5 million, including the assumption of a $38.2 million loan secured by Fashion Square Mall.

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