LIMA — Washington Prime Group, the Columbus-based owner of shopping centers including the Lima Mall, appears to be sliding closer to bankruptcy.
In its fourth-quarter earnings report issued this week, Washington Prime said “there exists substantial doubt about the company’s ability to continue as a going concern.”
The announcement was the latest in a string of bad news for the Lima Mall, which marked its 55th anniversary earlier this year, but has struggled with the loss of anchor stores.
Sunday is the final day that Macy’s will be open. Two other anchor stores closed within the last five years: Sears in May 2018 and Elder Beerman in January 2016. JC Penney will be the only remaining anchor at the Lima Mall, but it too has a cloudy future. JCPenney closed 154 stores in 2020 after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May of that year. The store closings amounted to 30 percent of the retailers’ 846 stores.
Kim Green, a spokesperson for Washington Prime, downplayed the latest news, telling The Lima News the company remains committed to Lima.
“We expect business as usual at our town centers, including the Lima Mall. Washington Prime Group does not expect this process to materially impact our operations,” Green said in an emailed statement. “The Lima Mall will continue to serve our guests, and guests will not notice any change in our operations. We plan to continue operating as normal with a primary focus on the health and safety of our guests, retailers, employees and community.”
In addition to the Lima Mall and Lima Center, Washington Prime Group owns eight Ohio centers: Polaris Fashion Place outside of Columbus; Indian Mound Mall in Heath; the Mall at Fairfield Commons in Beavercreek; Dayton Mall; New Towne Mall in New Philadelphia; Great Lakes Mall in Mentor; and Southern Park Mall in Youngstown.
For all of 2020, Washington Prime lost $233.8 million, compared with a loss of $11 million in 2019.
Like other mall operators, Washington Prime saw its revenue hammered last year by tenants who were unable to pay full rent or simply closed during the pandemic. Dozens of retailers filed for Chapter 11 in 2020, many of them mall standards such as Brooks Brothers, J. Crew, Pier 1, Aldo and GNC.
Washington Prime’s rent revenue fell from $633.6 million in 2019 to $506.7 million in 2020.
Washington Prime said it had reached an agreement with creditors extending until March 31 the deadline to pay a $23.2 million interest payment it missed in February.
But the company cast doubt on its ability to make the deadline and avoid Chapter 11.
“The company is continuing to engage in negotiations and discussions to restructure its capital structure,” the company reported, but acknowledged “the uncertainty associated with the company’s ability to meet these obligations.”
Washington Prime disclosed that its discussions with lenders have included bankruptcy in addition to renegotiating the terms of the loans.
“Although the company continues to be open to all discussions with the holders of the notes and its other stakeholders regarding a potential restructuring, there can be no assurance the company will reach an agreement.”
Washington Prime’s challenges were illustrated in its earnings report, which showed the company lost $111.4 million, or $5.24 per share, in the last three months of the year, compared with a profit of $17.1 million (81 cents a share) in the same period in 2019.
Washington Prime is among many shopping center owners struggling during the pandemic, as consumers shopped online instead of in person. In November, two companies, CBL Properties and PREIT, which together own 130 shopping centers, filed for Chapter 11. The same month, Simon Property Group indicated that it would allow two malls, including the Mall at Tuttle Crossing in Dublin, to fall into bankruptcy.
Washington Prime’s challenges at Polaris were compounded this month by two shootings, which forced the temporary evacuation of the mall.
Washington Prime operates 100 shopping centers, concentrated in the Midwest, East Coast and in Florida.
The company’s stock closed at $2.82 a share Thursday, down from almost $15 a share at the end of January.
Jim Weiker of The Columbus Dispatch contributed to this report.