October 18, 2019 9:57:03 AM
In the 1950s, CBS television offered viewers one of the first game shows, "The $64,00 Question," where contestants answered trivia questions for prize money.
Today in Columbus, we have The $3.5 Million Question and there's nothing trivial about it.
Tuesday afternoon, a winning bid of $3.5 million was submitted in an online auction for the purchase of Leigh Mall.
Beyond that, few details are known. We know virtually nothing of the new owner nor what the owner intends to do with the property. It may be weeks before the sale is closed and we learn even that basic information.
That said, there are a few things we do know. First and foremost, the property did attract a buyer. That in itself, represents good news, especially since it was unclear if the auction would attract a bid that would meet the auction's minimum sale price. By mid-afternoon, the bidding hovered around the $2 million mark for a property whose estimated value, according to Lowndes County tax assessor Greg Andrews, ranged from $12 million to $18 million.
The auction was extended by about a half hour as new bids begin to emerge for the property that covers 30 acres with 300,000 square feet of existing retail space.
The sale itself can be viewed optimistically. The prospects of the property failing to attract an acceptable bid is not something anyone would want to contemplate.
At the sale price, the new owner seems to be getting a good deal: a rate of return of roughly 16 percent based on financials provided by the real estate broker. Without knowing the buyer, the amount of capital the buyer may plan to invest or the buyer's overall plans for the mall, much is left to speculation. Even so, it's not unreasonable to believe that the low sale price may actually be a positive in the sense that it could mean the buyer has more money to invest in the property.
As it is, the mall is in serious need of repairs and maintenance. Its massive parking lot has long been in a state of disrepair, so bad that three years ago the city felt the need to approach the former owner and insist on repairs.
It is reasonable to expect that the property will be improved as a result of this sale, although the time line for those improvements is anybody's guess.
We are eager to know what the new owner has in mind, and hope the plans are ambitious and implemented quickly.
Since it opened in 1973, Leigh Mall has been the face of our retail development, for better at first, and here lately, for worse.
The buyer's success in revitalizing this important part of our retail community is something that touches every citizen.
Thursday's auction was a big step in that process.
We eagerly await the answers to our $3.5 Million Question.
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