Road conditions in Hutchinson have been a popular topic of discussion lately thanks to unprecedented damage from winter and spring frost boils. But if you ask residents where the worst roads are, you’re likely to hear one response: the Hutchinson Mall.
The good news is renovations may soon be on the way, according to Eric Frankel, vice president of Lexington Realty International, the New Jersey-based company that purchased the mall property in 2013.
“We do plan on resurfacing the parking lot,” Frankel said. “We hope to make an announcement soon with regards to a new tenant for the J.C. Penny’s space. I can’t divulge any names at this point and time, but we are going to do the parking lot as part of our buildout.”
As city staff and elected officials have said many times, the roads and parking lot around the Hutchinson Mall are private property and not city streets. This has not stopped residents from airing their grievances to people such as Mayor Gary Forcier.
“I would say a couple (of complaints) a day between city workers and city hall,” Forcier said. “When I run into people, they always complain. The thing of it is, it’s privately owned.”
So if the mall area roads aren’t owned by the city, whose responsibility are they? Well, it’s complicated.
Lexington Realty International purchased the mall property from local owners Gus Wurdell and Tom Daggett. Surrounding businesses such as Taco Bell, Runnings, Cash Wise Foods, Buffalo Wild Wings, Holiday, and Maytag Car Wash and Laundromat also own portions of the parking lot.
“All of that stuff there is on private property,” said city attorney Mark Sebora. “The property lines on a lot of those roads go right down the middle of them. If you look at the boundary line between Taco Bell and Holiday, the line goes right down the middle of the road.”
For any sort of meaningful maintenance to be completed, businesses in the lot would have to work together. City Administrator Matt Jaunich said the city could attempt to declare the lot a public nuisance and force businesses to repave, but he said the city has never done something like that before.
“We could get a court order and try to get them to fix it,” Jaunich said. “That’s one of the biggest problems though, who do you go after? Historically, the city has not gone after parking lots that are privately owned because then you got the parking lots at Walmart, Target and Menards, etc. Could the city do it? Yes, but it would be difficult and complicated.”
Forcier also said that if the city took legal action, it could push the mall owners to abandon the mall completely.
“It would be quite a bit of money to fix it properly,” he said. “With all of the malls closing all over the country, there’s always the fear of them just walking away from it, too.”
Alexis Martinson, co-owner of Trimmings and Charm inside the mall, said mall business owners are aware of the complaints. They have contacted the property owners in the past to have the parking lot fixed.
“They are aware of the issue and are trying different things,” she said. “They went out and filled every single pothole, and then a terrible storm came through 12 hours later and unset everything. That was in March.”
Martinson also defended the mall owners against rumors of high rent and apathy.
“The mall has gotten a bad rap in the community and that upsets me,” she said. “I hear the rent is really high and the management is poor, so therefore people don’t want to bring their stores to the mall, and people don’t want to shop at the mall. It’s not (bad), the rent is very reasonable, and management is willing to work with people when people have issues.”
The Leader reached out to several other mall business employees who declined to comment.
Martinson noted the importance of supporting hometown businesses and said much of the traffic she sees using the mall roads are people who aren’t stopping to shop. If people want the mall parking lot to improve, she said, they should do more business at the mall.
“There’s a difference between constructive criticism and just tearing it apart. It’s private property that they drive on every single day,” Martinson said. “It’s not public domain. Their taxes don’t pay for that road. So if they don’t shop at the mall, the mall doesn’t get money and they can’t go and fix the parking lot.”