RACINE — Regency Mall’s owners have followed through on their promise to transform what the mall looks and feels like inside, with exterior renovations to start soon.
Interior renovations that began in January are nearing completion with the addition of large, colorful murals to the walls that mall owner Hull Property Group installed anywhere it had vacant storefronts. Gone are the prison-like metal cages that fronted those spaces.
In addition to the new walls and murals, Regency has all new LED lighting and new ceiling lights, new paint and carpeting. All the bathrooms have been renovated.
Augusta, Ga.-based Hull Property Group bought Regency Mall, which opened in 1981, in late 2016 for $9.5 million with the intention of turning it around, HPG’s specialty. From the start, Hull executives called Regency a “failed” mall. HPG, with more than 40 years of experience in retail real estate, has a history of acquiring and repositioning underperforming enclosed malls and shopping centers in small- to mid-size markets.
Part of Hull’s revitalization strategy for malls is to spend millions of dollars on what the company calls “sacrificial investments” to transform the interiors and greatly modify the exteriors. In this case, the investment will be nearly $4 million according to the tax increment financing plan the city adopted, after working with HPG, for the mall area and beyond.
“We could not have made this investment without the TID in place,” said John Mulherin, Hull’s vice president for government relations. “We’re very appreciative, and we’re doing what we said we would do.”
Another difference inside the mall: There are only a few kiosks left in the center of the corridors. As those leases expire, Hull has been either not renewing those leases or, in one case, moving a merchant into an available storefront.
HPG believes in long sight lines; Hull believes that makes women feel safer in a mall. The result of removing those kiosks, combined with the new carpeting, lighting, murals and other aesthetic improvements, gives the mall’s corridors a very different ambiance.
“We sort of busted that perception of failure with these aesthetic improvements,” Mulherin said.
The walls that replaced the former vacant storefronts are architecturally accented by baseboard, chair rail, crown molding and some by wainscoting.
The new murals, which include historic, iconic local photos, quotations and inspirational messages, are still being applied this week. Example of those murals and photos include, inside the mall’s west end, large photo murals of the Wind Point Lighthouse, a view of Shoop Park and Lake Michigan from the lighthouse’s tower, and the Racine breakwater lighthouse.
Next to those photos is a quotation from the late President John F. Kennedy: “We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light the candle that can guide us through that darkness to a safe and sane future.”
Other photo subjects include Racine Zoological Gardens, the Racine Symphony Orchestra, Laurel Clark Memorial Fountain, Reefpoint Marina, kringle and O&H Danish Bakery. Other famous people whose inspirational quotations are used include Albert Einstein, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Eleanor Roosevelt and Walt Disney.
Just inside of the southeast entrance are much-enlarged old black-and-white photos of Monument Square, circa 1938, and the Hamilton Beach Co. campus, circa 1955.
Exterior is next
Mulherin is scheduled to present Hull’s vision for upgrading the mall’s exterior to the Racine Plan Commission on June 13. Pending final approval of those plans by the City Council, HPG will start exterior renovations and power-washing of the building as soon as possible.
The renovations will include remaking each of the four main entrances, Mulherin said. HPG plans to have all interior and exterior work completed by Aug. 1.
“It’s just like curb appeal,” he said.
Mulherin said it is likely that the first new-tenant activity will occur on its remaining outparcels, and that more activity will creep into the mall itself from that outer ring.
Hull believes it is taking the steps that will retain its existing tenants while it looks, very selectively, for new ones to add to the mix, Mulherin said.
“If somebody knocks on the door,” he remarked, “we’re in a position to answer it.”
“We sort of busted that perception of failure with these aesthetic improvements.” John Mulherin, Hull Property Group