Nick Masino was seated in the audience Thursday morning when someone asked the panel assembled before him what could be done to revive Gwinnett Place Mall.
As Gwinnett County’s top economic development recruiter, Masino wasn’t bashful about standing up and taking a mic to answer the question — or about revealing that he and other folks are actively trying to get rid of the mall’s current owner, Moonbeam Capital Investments.
“We have to replace Moonbeam Development. They talk and talk and talk and do nothing,” Masino told dozens of business leaders gathered for a forum sponsored by online media outlet Bisnow.
“So if you’re interested in replacing Moonbeam, call me. Call Joe Allen, the Gwinnett Place CID executive director. Call Jace Brooks, the District 1 [county] commissioner,” said Masino, the senior vice president of Partnership Gwinnett, the economic development arm of the county’s chamber of commerce. “Let’s all hashtag-get-rid-of-Moonbeam. The answer is we don’t have a professional developer that owns the property that knows what the hell they’re doing. So let’s get rid of them… you can quote me on that.”
The bluntness of Masino’s answer drew a few gasps and “wows” from the crowd seated on the fourth floor of an office building across Satellite Boulevard from the once-proud but now struggling Duluth-area mall. But Masino later told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he stood behind his words.
And Allen, the community improvement district director Masino referenced in his comments, agreed. His group, in fact, voted last month to spend about $120,000 to market the area, money that will include a regional and national search for investors and developers.
Of course, no one could actually force Moonbeam out. But the thought is to “present opportunities” that would encourage the developer to sell the mall, or even to partner with someone else.
“I don’t have a badge. I don’t have a gun. I have no enforcement,” Allen said. “But what I can do is facilitate discussions.”
Asked for comment Thursday, Moonbeam CEO Steven Maksin said his team would respond shortly. A lengthy statement was sent to The AJC around 8:30 p.m.
“Since Moonbeam purchased Gwinnett Place Mall our company began planning a redevelopment play at the mall site. Unfortunately, the retail aspect of the redevelopment had to be re-designed several times since the consumer retail needs have changed drastically over the last 5 years,” the statement, emailed by marketing and leasing direrctor Anna Khavulya, said.
“Fortunately, Gwinnett Place Mall is well suited for a mixed use redevelopment (retail and office) with a large sports/entertainment component. A multi-family development is also in the cards. In addition, a number of national-caliber real estate development teams have proposed joint-venture opportunities to us. Finally, our local team has been in constant contact with the officials at Gwinnett County who have been very helpful and supportive of our redevelopment efforts.”
Moonbeam owns dozens of properties across the country, including at least 10 malls. Though the woes of traditional malls are widespread, recent media reports have highlighted struggles at Moonbeam properties from Louisiana to upstate New York.
Gwinnett Place hasn’t fared any better.
Moonbeam purchased the already-flailing shopping center in late 2013 and, in January, floated plans for a grand makeover that included demolishing one department store to build apartments and converting two other wings into office space. The company said it would submit redevelopment plans to the county in March.
That never happened and, last month, CEO Steven Maksin declined to offer a new timetable.
Asked at the time about those doubting his company’s redevelopment efforts, he quoted a movie: “I’m not your best friend. I’m your only friend.”
If certain Gwinnett leaders have their way, Moonbeam may no longer be a friend at all.
Brooks, the county commissioner, said Thursday that he, too, was “disappointed in Moonbeam’s lack of action or follow through on any redevelopment plan.”