Pennmark Properties Purchases Coventry Mall

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The deal is done.

4_9-CoverCoventry Mall has been purchased by Pennmark Management Co. of Plymouth Meeting.

In an interview following Friday’s real estate settlement of the deal for an undisclosed amount, Pennmark CEO Donald F. Cafiero talked about the company’s plans for the 49-year-old mall, which in recent years has experienced a loss of retailers and shoppers.

Cafiero said the company’s primary goal is to increase the number of people who come to Coventry Mall and to fill vacancies with retailers, restaurants and other businesses that fit the mall and the needs of the community.

Cafiero said the transition has already begun.

Steve Batten, former advertising manager for The Mercury, has been named mall manager and director of marketing for Coventry Mall.

The mall will remain open throughout the transition, according to a press release.

Pennmark purchased the mall from U.S. Bank National Association, which had acquired the property at auction in 2013 for $49.5 million.

“When you have a property that has gone through a bankruptcy it starts a negative series of events. We’re here to stop the negative and start the turnaround process,” Cafiero said.

The transaction has been in the works for several months, Cafiero said, and includes the main mall property, a strip mall that includes a new CVS store and the former Carmike movie theater, which is across Route 724 from the mall.

4_9-insideCafiero said representatives from Pennmark talked with some of the mall’s tenants prior to finalizing the sales, but didn’t have a chance to talk with everyone. Now that the deal is complete, talks can resume.

“Those we have spoken to have been upbeat about the future of the center. We are encouraged to make additional investments and work with retailers who commit to increasing traffic,” he said.

Jim Boscov is vice chairman and CEO of Boscov’s Department Store LLC. He said he hasn’t met personally with representatives from Pennmark, although Boscov’s head of real estate has.

Boscov welcomed news of the sale.

“We do very well in that location in the mall despite the mall’s downturn, and our intent is to stay there,”Boscov said. “We want to work constructively with them, and we welcome someone coming in that is willing to spend money to make improvements.”

Cafiero said it won’t be long before shoppers start to see things happening. One of the first things they’ll see is paving work and pothole repair in the parking lot.

He said the company plans to make some modifications to the structure to improve parking access to the mall. Another short term goal is improving the landscaping to include some green areas, which currently don’t exist on the property, as well as some outdoor seating for restaurants.

He added that architects and land planners are already on the job, looking at longer range projects to restore the mall’s retail presence.

“We’ll be looking to add services such as affordable child care, fitness, medical and restaurants (both sit down and casual),” Batten said. “We’re also open to the opportunity to work with hospitality groups to help provide additional quality services to the community.”

Boscov said the idea of mixed use in malls is something his company, which owns 43 stores in six states, sees happening across the industry.

“It reflects the lifestyle people have and it makes good sense,” Boscov said. “That’s not to say there aren’t some successful malls that have the critical mass to be just retail.”

Pennmark Management Co. owns and manages a portfolio that includes 2 million square feet of retail, office and flex space across Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Ohio, including eight shopping centers in Pennsylvania, according to the company’s website (

“Our background is construction of new centers but in recent years we have done acquisitions of properties with troubled backgrounds,” Cafiero added.

So how do you get new retailers to commit to leasing in a property with a “troubled background?” Cafiero said it starts with having a good dialog with the retailer and what they see as the needs for their business.

“We have retailers in Coventry who have been successful despite the decline. We think there are enough retailers who are still going to be successful in what I call the ‘bricks and sticks’ world as opposed to the internet world,” according to Cafiero.

One thing that Cafiero said Coventry Mall has going for it is the fact that there are three strong anchor stores already in place — Boscov’s, Kohls and Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Former anchor stores Sears and Ross Dress for Less have left, and Pennmark will be looking at ways to utilize the space left vacant, which may include dividing the space differently.

“We are looking at a more permanent use of that space — something that is more complimentary to the mall. It could be a retailer or a farmers market. There are a variety of uses and tenants we have worked with that might suit the space,” he said.

Cafiero added that there are plans to expand some of the existing stores — but could not give any additional details. He would like to see space devoted to a community meeting room or a cultural center for the community.

Cafiero could not commit to a dollar figure for Pennmark’s investment in the property except to say it is “several million dollars, but we’re flexible,” adding that the work is just getting underway.

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