April 27, 2015 10:06:20 AM
For years, Leigh Mall businesses and shoppers have wrestled with bad parking lot conditions. Now mall ownership presumably has a plan to fix the problem.
At least one Columbus official, though -- Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem -- said they had better get to it or the city may intervene.
California-based Security National Properties, which owns Leigh Mall, "has a plan in place" to improve the mall's cracked and pothole-riddled parking area, according to mall property manager Gail Culpepper. She said Security National representatives visited Columbus last week to meet with companies to discuss a potential overlay project, and mall ownership would return this week to continue discussions.
Culpepper, an independent contractor who said she is not an official spokesperson for Security National Properties, deferred to company senior associate for leasing and operations Steven Williams for details, including price estimates and time line. Williams declined on Saturday to release any of those details.
"The only comment I can make at this time is that we're aware of the situation with the parking lot and are in the process of addressing the issue," Williams said.
Councilman says citizens complaining
Karriem brought the parking lot debate to a head at Tuesday's Columbus City Council meeting when he stopped short of moving to deny the mall an event permit for the annual spring/summer carnival it holds in May in the parking area. After several minutes admonishing mall leadership for the parking situation, he ultimately participated in a unanimous vote to approve the permit.
"I don't want to keep entertainment out that will actually bring money into the mall and the city," Karriem said. "By the same token, the mall owners have a fiduciary responsibility to make sure their property is maintained."
Though the mall actually sits in Ward 6, Karriem said he is "very passionate" about seeing its parking lot repaved, adding that several citizens have called him to complain. He said Leigh Mall also served as a "microcosm" of what he believes is a growing problem in Columbus where absentee property owners don't take care of their property.
Because of that, he said he supported using the city's code enforcement ordinances, if necessary, to ensure Leigh Mall repaves its parking area.
"I hear from people who went out there to do some shopping, and the parking lot is horrendous," Karriem said. "You'll tear up your car trying to patronize the mall ... I'm willing to support doing whatever is within the city's power to compel the mall to do this if it comes to that."
Councilman Bill Gavin, who represents Ward 6, said he hopes it doesn't come to that. With the mall being private property, he said the city is limited in its options to "compel" and he'd rather the mall be an example of private business growing through investment rather than an example of how the city could make a private property owner do the right thing.
He said he had tried to work with mall leadership for about five years to convince it to invest in major renovations, including the parking lot, that would help recruit new stores to the mall. If they are willing, he said, he has offered to support tax increment financing (TIF) bonds for the project, which would allow sales and ad valorem taxes collected from the mall to pay for public infrastructure improvements, such as roads, water and sewer, specifically for the mall.
While he said Security National has yet to take him up on the scale of renovation he feels the mall needs, Gavin said Leigh Mall has made strides in the past few years. For instance, he said Leigh Mall notched a big win in 2014 by bringing in Hobby Lobby and repaving the parking area directly in front of the store.
"Their success is our success," Gavin said of Leigh Mall.
Culpepper said she is limiting her communication with city officials about the mall's parking lot project, citing that it is private property.
"We have taken steps (for parking lot improvements)," she said. "We don't feel like we owe the city an explanation."
Some shoppers, though, are also looking for answers.
One shopper, Brandy Walker of Columbus, told The Dispatch on Friday she more often shops out of town because of Columbus's "poor selection." When she does go to Leigh Mall, she said she and her family had seen their share of run-ins with the dilapidated parking area.
"It's awful," Walker said. "We've had to repair a tire or two after we've come here just to eat something at the deli."