Divergent Views Of Eastland Mall's Future Emerge At Property Tax Hearing
Eastland Mall’s owners forecast a dire future for the mall Wednesday as they tried to significantly lower their property tax bill, with one of their experts saying he doesn’t think the half-empty mall will ever recover from losing four of its five anchor stores.
CBL Properties has appealed the mall’s assessed value—the number that’s used to calculate its property tax bill. The government assessor thinks the mall is worth $32 million. CBL thinks it’s just $21 million, citing the mall’s falling income and rising vacancies. If granted that lower value, CBL’s tax bill would drop $308,595—forcing schools and local government to ask other taxpayers to make up the difference.
At Wednesday’s Board of Review hearing, CBL’s commercial real estate expert Ed Salisbury disputed the higher $32 million value.
“I’ve never seen a mall in Illinois that’s lost over 50% of its anchor stores and been able to recover from that,” Salisbury said. “I don’t see this mall coming back.”
That view is in contrast to public comments from CBL about the mall’s outlook. In the last few years, CBL has promised a redevelopment plan for the mall, which has only materialized in part. H&M, Planet Fitness, and Outback Steakhouse have all opened recently.
Yet nearly 60% of the mall remains vacant.
Jeff Jurgens, an attorney for the City of Bloomington, disputed CBL’s claim that it had worked with the city’s economic development staff to revitalize the mall.
“We’ve not had the type of responses that we would have liked,” Jurgens said Wednesday. “It’s been slow and silent getting responses back (from CBL).”
The District 87 school district opposes CBL’s request for a reduced value. District 87 superintendent Barry Reilly has said CBL has not invested enough in the property or made real efforts to lure new tenants.
District 87 attorney John Pratt noted the City of Bloomington Township assessor has already taken into account financial challenges at the mall, reducing the mall’s value from $56 million to $32 million in just two years. CBL’s “self-serving” $21 million figure understates the value of what’s vacant and could someday generate revenue again, he said.
And Pratt noted that other commercial properties near Eastland Mall are doing much better, such as Colonial Plaza, which replaced Kmart and Circuit City with Dick’s Sporting Goods, Five Below, and other stores. The shuttered K's Merchandise in Bloomington’s Lakewood Plaza became a Hy-Vee. The OSF HealthCare campus is growing.
“There’s reason for hope,” Pratt said.
If the mall’s assessed value is reduced again, that cuts into the overall property tax base but doesn’t change what schools and other taxing bodies need to operate. That means other Bloomington taxpayers will be asked to make up the difference, Pratt said.
“It’s not fair to the taxpayers. We’ll all have to pick up the slack,” Pratt said.
Tim Jorczak, senior commercial appraiser for City of Bloomington Township, defended the $32 million value at Wednesday’s hearing. He acknowledged the mall is in a “transitional state,” and cited the mall’s falling gross income—from $8.6 million in 2017 to $6.2 million this year.
But Jorczak stressed that the property still has value. He said that intersection of Veterans and Empire Street is arguably the most desirable retail property in downstate Illinois, and that Bloomington has “one of the strongest economies in central Illinois.”
“The mall is nearing the end of its useful economic life,” Jorczak said.
The Board of Review won’t make a decision on the mall’s assessed value until the end of the year. If they go with the higher $32 million value, CBL attorney Jim Regan said they’ll appeal the decision to the state’s Property Tax Appeal Board (PTAB).
CBL paid $1.1 million in property taxes for the 2018 tax year.
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