TOWNE MALL
Roosevelt and Towne Boulevards
Warren County (Franklin Township), Ohio

Cleveland's Richard E. Jacobs Group built the second shopping mall to serve the southwestern Ohio city of Middletown. Constructed on a 56.3 acre tract, located 4 miles southeast of the center city, TOWNE MALL encompassed 465,400 leasable square feet and contained fifty-two store spaces.

The first operational store, a 1-level (113,300 square foot), Cincinnati-based McAlpin's, made its debut on February 16, 1975. The remainder of the shopping hub was added to this freestanding anchor. The mall, and its 1-level (68,000 square foot) Sears, opened February 9, 1977. A 1-level (118,000 square foot), Dayton-based Elder-Beerman was dedicated late in the same year.

Inline tenants at the original TOWNE MALL included GNC, Morse Shoes, Worthmore Men's, J. Riggings, Chess King, County Seat, Casual Corner, Chick-Fil-A, The Limited, Spencer Gifts, Revco Drug, Rogers Jewelers, Radio Shack, Camelot Music and a York Steak House.

Major shopping centers in the vicinity of TOWNE MALL included CITY CENTRE MART (1975) {3.9 miles northwest, in downtown Middletown}, TRI-COUNTY CENTER (1960) {15.2 miles southwest, in Springdale} and DAYTON MALL (1970) {10.9 miles northeast, in Montgomery County}.

Serving the Middletown Metropolitan Statistical Area, TOWNE MALL was actually located in unincorporated Warren County's Franklin Township, near the Blue Ball community. The mall was successful in its early years, as it was the only shopping venue in Southwestern Ohio to feature both Elder Beerman (of Dayton) and McAlpin's (of Cincinnati). In fact, the McAlpin's did so well that it opened three smaller boutique-type stores within the mall.

For years, Middletown had made overtures toward annexing the property. This was bitterly contested by local residents. The issue was eventually decided by the Ohio Supreme Court. In 1996, Middletown prevailed and TOWNE MALL was taken into the city limits.

Middletown had been coveting tax dollars generated by the mall for years. Ironically, by the time they finally engulfed the retail complex, it was beginning to decline. The proliferation of discount stores in its immediate vicinity, such as a hypermart Meijer ["miy-ir"], plus Target and Wal-Mart operations, hurt business. It is also opined that exorbitant rents charged for store spaces contributed to the mall's decline. Whatever the case, by the early 2000s, the shopping venue was virtually vacant.

Ownership of TOWNE MALL changed hands in January 2001, when Chattanooga-based CBL & Associates Properties bought holdings of the Jacobs Group.

McAlpin's had become a Dillard's following the Mercantile Stores merger of August 1998. Other smaller inline tenants made a gradual exodus from the shopping center. By the mid-2000s, there were thirty vacant storefronts out of a total of fifty-two. This prompted CBL to propose various redevelopment plans between 2006 and 2009. These multi-million dollar projects would have reinvented the structure in one of the following formats;

1. A two-anchor lifestyle center with the enclosed mallway having been opened up as a central plaza.
2. A New Urbanism Town Center, with the entirety of the mall having been demolished and replaced by retail, residential and office components.
3. A mixed-use Lifestyle Center of newly-constructed retail, office and hospitality components, surrounding a central greenspace.

Eventually, the City of Middletown and Warren County decided not to contribute funding for any renovations. Dillard's shuttered their TOWNE MALL operation in June 2008. Another impediment to the redevelopment of TOWNE MALL was the opening of CINCINNATI PREMIUM OUTLETS {3.8 miles south, in Monroe}. The first stores in this open-air shopping hub began business in August 2009.

Following this, TOWNE MALL limped along in a state of retail twilight. Sears and Elder-Beerman remained in business...along with stores such as GNC, Radio Shack, Bath & Body Works, Finish Line and Dunham's Sports. By mid-2012, there were just eighteen operational stores.

In October 2012, a joint venture of two companies, S.A. Mary, Limited Liability Company and Bless Properties, Limited Liability Company, purchased TOWNE MALL. The Sears and Elder-Beerman buildings were not included in the transaction, but the latter was eventually purchased, along with the vacant Dillard's.

The new owners proposed a 20 to 25 million dollar rehab and repositioning of the shopping center. New names were put forward; THE DISTRICT AT MIDDLETOWN, MIDDLETOWN GALLERIA and TOWNE MALL GALLERIA. TOWNE MALL GALLERIA was selected as the center's new moniker.

Unfortunately, the mall's retail renaissance has been thwarted by several factors. A nearby Target was shuttered in early 2014. New mixed-use projects were also being built in the vicinity. BRIDGEWATER FALLS {11.6 miles southwest, in Butler County} was dedicated in 2011. AUSTIN LANDING {8.8 miles northeast, in Montgomery County} opened in stages between 2011 and 2014. Finally, LIBERTY CENTER {8.7 miles south, in Butler County} held its grand opening in 2015.

By the spring of 2014, a proposed rehab of TOWNE MALL GALLERIA had not started. Several stores had given up and shut their doors. These included Worthmore Men's and Kay Jewelers (charter 1977 tenants), as well as All About You Catering, Finish Line, Home Connection and GameLand & PCs.

News of a prospective Burlington (Coat Factory), announced in July 2014, was welcomed by stores still in operation in the virtually vacant facility. The (56,000 square foot) Burlington, taking half of the old Dillard's, opened March 13, 2015. The remainder of the space was occupied by a (57,300 square foot), Morgantown, West Virginia-based Gabe's, which was dedicated October 10, 2015.

A new strip center was built in the front parking area. TOWNE MALL SHOPPES encompassed 12,700 leasable square feet and housed Buffalo Wild Wings, Aspen Dental, Sport Clips and a GNC (which moved from inside the mall). Stores were open for business by May 2017. Unfortunately, the news of these new tenants was met with bad tidings. Elder-Beerman shuttered their 39-year-old store on January 31, 2017.  

Sources:

http://www.shoptownemall.com
Warren County, Ohio property tax assessor website
Dayton Daily News
The Middletown Journal
www.brightwire.com
http://www.urbanohio.com forum / Comment post by "PreservationRestoration"
www.cblproperties.com (CBL & Associates Properties)
http://specialtyretail.com
http://www.bizjournals.com/dayton