Belk Inc. will start its going-out-of-business sale Sunday at Regency Square Mall to clear out merchandise so it can move to a new store several miles east.
Charlotte, N.C.-based Belk opted to not renew its lease at the Arlington shopping center, where it has operated since 2002. The lease expires March 31, but Belk is expected to close the store in mid-February.
Belk spokeswoman Jessica Graham said Thursday the new store, in the Atlantic North shopping center at northwest Kernan and Atlantic boulevards, will open March 11.
There already are racks of clothing and merchandise displays posting discounts or marked for clearance. Graham said the sale will start by marking prices down 30 to 50 percent.
Graham said the store’s 80 employees will be offered jobs at the new store. “Some may prefer to move to other stores within the market and we will make those accommodations,” she said.
Belk has three stores in Jacksonville — at the Avenues mall, Roosevelt Square and Regency.
The city approved a banner sign Wednesday for Belk that says “Moving Sale.” It is good through Jan. 10, in time for the holiday shopping season. Signs can be renewed.
Regency Square Mall General Manager Jim Kramer said it would be posted on the side of Belk facing the Arlington Expressway.
Kramer said he was looking for tenants, ideally a large regional department store, to take the space, but he doesn’t have a prospect. Even if he had a tenant, it probably couldn’t move in until at least June 1.
Unless a store opens in the space, Kramer said he would close off the store, which bridges the East and West malls at Regency. Customers and mall walkers now can cross from the East Mall into the West Mall through the middle of Belk.
Closing that access will create two separate malls.
The East Mall, anchored by JCPenney, is about 85 percent occupied with retailers. Kramer said the food court will be completely leased by the end of January. The last two spaces will sell German fare and Mexican food.
The former Tilt space could become a sports bar.
The West Mall, which is largely vacant except for Sears at the west end and a few other stores, is available for nontraditional tenants as well as retailers, Kramer said.
Belk did not renew its lease at Regency Square, which is at 9501 Arlington Expressway. Belk leases a two-story, 144,000-square-foot store at the mall’s center. It opened there March 1, 2002, Kramer said.
The new, smaller, one-story 96,000-square-foot store is at 11901 Atlantic Blvd. The Atlantic North center is anchored by LA Fitness, Academy Sports & Outdoors and Earth Fare.
Belk’s departure raises questions about the possibilities for its space and for Regency Square Mall in general.
One recent proposal didn’t pan out. The Belk space was part of an unsuccessful bid for the Citizens Property Insurance Corp. consolidated office center, which would have taken a large portion of the West Mall. Citizens Property has zeroed in on EverBank Center Downtown.
Along with Belk, JCPenney and Sears, the mall also is anchored by a Dillard’s Clearance Center at the end of a wing in the West Mall.
Torch Bearers Church is building out almost 15,000 square feet near the Dillard’s center, an example of the nontraditional tenants sought by Kramer.
Regency Square, a 47-year-old center heralded for its modern design and popular retailers when it opened, has lost tenants and luster as other suburban malls opened and new residential communities sprouted further out all around town.
New York owners bought the 1.4 million-square-foot mall, which had fallen to a 38 percent occupancy rate, for just $13 million in February.
Regency Mall Realty LLC, which is the lead company that bought Regency, is a joint venture of Namdar Realty Group LLC and Mason Asset Management, both of Great Neck, N.Y.
Owners soon began consolidating the mall’s retailers into the East Mall and decided to position the West Mall for different uses. Sears and Dillard’s own their buildings.
Kramer said Thursday a furniture store could work in the Belk space, starting on the ground floor and expanding, if needed, to the second.
He also said he would like to bring a charter school into the center, as well as an antique mall into the former Montgomery Ward space near Sears. He said he also has talked with a medical office tenant.
“We talked to a lot of different people about a lot of different uses,” he said.
High-profile tenants that continue to operate in the East Mall include Aeropostale, Victoria’s Secret, Wet Seal, Foot Locker, Claire’s, Kay Jewelers, LensCrafters and others, as well as Jacksonville staple, Regency Health Foods.
Several new independent tenants have moved in since the mall was bought and Kramer was appointed, but the mall also has lost occupants.
Despite challenges at Regency and in the area, there are signs of progress nearby. The 24-screen Regency AMC, which leases property from the mall, is slated for renovations that include new seating and a bar, among other amenities. And the Olive Garden restaurant across the street is being rebuilt after it was destroyed by a fire.