Cincinnati Mall, formerly known as Forest Fair Mall and Cincinnati Mills, is an ailing shopping center in Fairfield, Ohio.
Forest Fair Mall was constructed by L.J. Hooker in 1986, with the east wing of the mall opening in July 1988 with Bigg’s hypermarket and value-oriented inline tenants. 11 Complications with leasing delayed the opening of the west “fashion” wing with upscale tenants until March 1989. Combined, the new Forest Fair Mall featured 1½-million square feet with B. Altman, Biggs, Bonwit Teller, Elder-Beerman, and Parisian as anchors and 200 stores. 3
Hooker was saddled with debt as construction costs that were estimated at $200 million came in at more than $250 million. 11 By June, Forest Fair was put up for sale. Hooker sought bankruptcy protection in September, claiming debts of $1.7 billion. B. Altman and Bonwit Teller, two retailers that Hooker had purchased in mid-1987, also filed for bankruptcy protection. Bonwit Teller closed in October 1990, followed by B. Altman and Sakowitz in November.
In January 1991, Hooker’s seven lenders took over the mall’s operation as FFM Limited Partnership. 11 Occupancy dropped to 56% because of uncertainty in the shopping center’s future. Seeking to turn around its flagging fortunes, FFM rebranded the mall as Malls at Forest Fair in May 1992 as part of a $25 million project which included dividing the concourses into four retail themes centered around entertainment, fashion, lifestyle, and value. 13 The Festival at Forest Fair, a themed restaurant and bar district, opened in the former Bonwit Teller at the cost of $8 million in August 1993. Kohl’s opened in the B. Altman location in September 1994. By the end of the year, the occupancy rate had climbed to 75%, and the mall’s prospects seemed brighter. 11
FFM placed Malls at Forest Fair on the market in February 1995 which was acquired by Gator Forest Park Partners of Miami in 1996 for $18 million.11 Gator envisioned Forest Fair as a destination outlet mall 3 7 10 and pledged to invest $10 million into the shopping center over the next three years. 11
Parisian closed its anchor store at the mall in June 1998. 11 Not long after, Showcase Cinemas, a first-run multiplex movie theater, opened on the lower level in the food court, replacing the Time Out game arcade. Saks Off Fifth signed open as an anchor outlet store in August 2000 followed by Burlington Coat Factory in October and Bass Pro Shops in November. Wonderpark Family Fun Center, an indoor children’s amusement park, opened in September 2001.
In 2002, the Mills Corporation purchased the Malls at Forest Fair for $69.4 million and began a $70 million renovation project in February 2003. 2 3 4 10 21 The project was aided by $19 million in tax increment financing for two parking garages. 4 20 The mall was rededicated as Cincinnati Mills on August 19, 2004. 1 10 It thrived with three anchors, 145 inline tenants, several themed restaurants and nightclubs, and two movie theatres, and boasted an occupancy rate of 93%. It was projected that in a total build-out scenario, the mall could support up to 15 anchors and 200 inline retailers. 2
The mall’s fortunes mirrored the Mills Corporation’s finances by April 2006. 3 6 Cincinnati Mills had declined to 115 tenants by mid-summer and the shopping center had become one of the weakest performers in the Mill Corporation’s portfolio, with sales per square feet less than half the average for similarly sized facilities. 5 By December, occupancy was down to 66%. 8 Brookfield Asset Management and Simon Property Group purchased the Mills Corporation for $1.6 billion on January 16, 2007. 6 14
In 2007, Cincinnati Mills was a contender for IKEA, a Swedish home furnishings retailer, but the deal fell through after IKEA announced that it would build a free-standing store in West Chester. 7 Bigg’s closed its hypermarket due to slumping sales in June 2008 following an attempt to partition off a section of its store and attempt an outlet store concept. 9 By September, only 56% of the mall was leased, including 60% of the anchor space and 47% of the inline retailer space. 14
North Star Realty of Georgia purchased the mall in January 2009, although the company became delinquent on property taxes and payments relating to the construction of the parking garages. 15 20
Cincinnati Mills was purchased by the Cincinnati Holding Company, a subsidiary of World Properties Inc. of New York, for $4.7 million on March 4, 2009. 19 In a move to restore the mall’s viability, the company renamed the property Cincinnati Mall and sought non-traditional tenants to fill the empty shopping center. The bleeding of tenants only accelerated which led Showcase Cinemas to close on February 28, 2010. 16 17
Cincinnati Holding soon fell behind on its assessment and tax payments, at one point owing the city of Forest Park $2.5 million for annual assessments (which were charged instead of property taxes due to tax reductions that were given during a renovation in 2003), and $200,000 in taxes for the Winton Woods City School District. 21 The company worked out a payment schedule with the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority to pay the late assessments and taxes owed.
In January 2011, 18 Cincinnati Holding announced that the mall would undergo significant changes, including the construction of Candlewood Suites, a 100,000 square-foot ice hockey arena, an indoor mountain bike facility, a 76,000 square-foot agriculture museum, and an indoor water park. 22 The Candlewood Suites would be located on the footprint of the former Steve and Barry’s store 19 while the ice hockey arena and water park would be situated in the old Bigg’s anchor. It was projected that the proposal would create 2,000 jobs. 18 The idea never came to fruition.
In October 2013, Bass Pro Shops, one of the only remaining anchors of Cincinnati Mall, announced that its store would eventually close in favor of a new facility at Union Center in West Chester. 23 The new store would feature 150,000 square feet of retail with an Uncle Buck’s Fishbowl and Grill and a bowling alley. Owing to an economic downturn and financial considerations, the new Bass Pro Shops store was never built.
In 2017, Newmark began marketing Cincinnati Mall for sale with a list price of $55 million. 25 Only a handful of shops and services were operating at the site, including Bass Pro Shop and Kohls. In February 2022, Hillwood Construction Services began negotiations to purchase the site with the goal of tearing down the 1.9-million-square-foot shopping center and redeveloping the site with 1.5 million square feet of light industrial buildings at the cost of $150 million.
The Butler County Land Bank applied for $9.5 million in state funding to raze dilapidated and abandoned buildings, with the bulk of the money, if approved, going to tear down Cincinnati Mall. 24 25 Hillwood pledged to match $2.6 million toward demolition costs that were estimated at $10.5 million.
- “New stores announced for Cincinnati Mills.” Cincinnati Mills 9 July 2004. 12 Nov. 2008.
- “Cincinnati Mills: One Year Later.” Fairfield Echo 5 Oct. 2005. 12 Nov. 2008.
- Fasig, Lisa Biank. “Despite success, Cincinnati Mills may return to sale rack.” Cincinnati Business Courier 28 April 2006. 12 Nov. 2008.
- Boyer, Mike. “Mall struggles to find niche.” Cincinnati Enquirer 12 July 2006. 12 Nov. 2008.
- Boyer, Mike. “Cincy Mills among firm’s worst performers.” Cincinnati Enquirer 7 Dec. 2006. 12 Nov. 2008.
- “Cincinnati Mills’ owner to be acquired.” Associated Press 17 Jan. 2007. 12 Nov. 2008.
- Boyer, Mike. “Cincinnati Mills hopes sparked.” Cincinnati Enquirer 6 Feb. 2007. 12 Nov. 2008.
- Boyer, Mike. “Can Cincinnati Mills work?” Cincinnati Enquirer 4 Feb. 2007. 12 Nov. 2008.
- Boyer, Mike. “Bigg’s in Forest Park to close.” Cincinnati Enquirer 14 May 2008. 12 Nov. 2008.
- Kiesewetter, Sue. “Mall’s new look holds surprises.” Cincinnati Enquirer 8 July 2004. 12 Nov. 2008.
- “Forest Fair Mall chronology.” Cincinnati Enquirer 29 Oct. 2000. 12 Nov. 2008.
- Fasig, Lisa Biank. “Forest Fair: Mall on the Mend.” Cincinnati Enquirer 29 Oct. 2000. 12 Nov. 2008.
- Kent, Jennifer. “Changes in Store – Forest Fair Mall Has New Name and New Direction.” Cincinnati Post 31 Aug. 1992. 13 Nov. 2008: 6B.
- Boyer, Mike. “Cincinnati Mills sold again.” Cincinnati Enquirer 2 Jan. 2009. 5 Jan. 2009.
- “Cincinnati Mills now Cincinnati Mall.” Business Courier of Cincinnati 4 March 2009. 6 March 2009.
- “Mall cinema shuts down.” Cincinnati Enquirer 2 March 2010. 2 March 2010.
- “Area Showcase Cinemas closes.” Fairfield Echo 2 March 2010. 2 March 2010.
- “Cincinnati Mall details vision.” Enquirer [Cincinnati] 27 Jan. 2011. 27 Jan. 2011..
- Demeropolis, Tom. “Latest plan for Cincinnati Mall: ice rink, water park.” Business Courier [Cincinnati] 18 Jan. 2011. 27 Jan. 2011..
- Baverman, Laura. “Cincinnati Mall announces redevelopment.” Enquirer [Cincinnati] 17 Jan. 2011. 27 Jan. 2011..
- Dowdy, Rob. “Cincinnati Mall works on debt plan.” Enquirer [Cincinnati] 22 April 2010. 27 Jan. 2011..
- Baverman, Laura. “Ambitious plans for Cincinnati Mall.” Enquirer [Cincinnati] 27 Jan. 2011. 28 Jan. 2011..
- Mink, Dan. “Bass Pro Shops building new West Chester store, closing Forest Fair Mall.” WCPO [Cincinnati] 18 Oct. 2013. 21 Oct. 2013.
- Callahan, Denise. “Former Forest Fair Mall, other buildings will be demolished if funds come through.” Journal-News, 24 Feb. 2022.
- Demeropolis, Tom. “Greater Cincinnati mall under contract; demo and $150M project planned.” Cincinnati Business Courier, 28 Feb. 2022.