Lexington businessman buys Turfland Mall for $6 million

bfortune@herald-leader.comDecember 17, 2012 

Turf Development, a company owned by Lexington businessman and accountant Ron Switzer, has bought the Turfland Mall property on Harrodsburg Road for $6 million from longtime owner Rubloff Turfland Corp.

Plans call for razing the 367,000-square-foot mall, with the exception of Staples office store, Switzer said Monday.

He said he did not have specific plans at this point for redevelopment of the 26-acre property.

"What we want to do is take an eyesore and come up with an attractive plan for a development," he said.

Switzer intends to meet with the city's planning staff to get input on development possibilities, and to begin preparing a master plan for the site.

"We're not under a time constraint. We want to make sure whatever we do there, we do it right. So it is something to be proud of, and at the same time makes economic sense," Switzer said.

The condition of the buildings and the obsolescence of an enclosed mall, built in 1966, led to the only logical conclusion to demolish the existing buildings and redevelop the site in a way that meets the current needs of the community, he said.

The acquisition did not include the former Verizon Building on the corner of Harrodsburg and Lane Allen roads, the Home Depot or any of the outparcels on the front of the mall property.

Turfland closed in 2008 but had been a weak retail center for years before that.

A Western Kentucky bank sued June 8 to foreclose on the property owned by Rubloff Turfland. The suit also named Rubloff employees Gerald Weber, Ronald Swenson and Robert Brownson.

The lawsuit filed by Heritage Bank of Hopkinsville says Rubloff, in addition to not making payments, had allowed the property "to deteriorate into a state of substantial and material disrepair."

The lawsuit said Rubloff owed $15.1 million in unpaid principal, accrued interest and late fees. That amount accumulated interest at the rate of $2,259 a day, according to the lawsuit. The balance included $64,650, which the bank said it advanced Rubloff in July to pay a portion of Rubloff's property taxes.

The bank said it also paid the 2011 property taxes of $107,543 in April.

Rubloff Development of Hoffman Estates, Ill., outside Chicago, described as a turnaround firm, bought Turfland Mall in 1997. At the time, Rubloff vice president Bob Brownson described the property as "a real vibrant mall" that needed some cosmetic improvements.

Turfland was built in 1966 as Lexington's first enclosed mall, and it became a destination for shoppers throughout Central and Eastern Kentucky, said Joe Graves, an owner of Graves-Cox clothing store at the time. "Our first branch store was in Turfland Mall. It did very well."

Initially, Turfland was anchored by McAlpin's — which became Dillard's — and Montgomery Ward, which closed in 2001.

Rubloff began extensive renovations, but as the years passed, the mall's tenants pulled out, eventually leaving it nearly empty.

In 2009, Rubloff announced a concept for what would be named Turfland Town Center, and called for razing the enclosed part of Turfland Mall, between Home Depot and the former Dillard's space. The hope was to transform the site into a development that would be primarily commercial office space, but also include residential and retail.

"The reality is, many major markets ... can only absorb one regional mall, and Fayette Mall is doing more than enough to do that. Just the sales volume out of there is tremendous," Zack Knutson, chief operating officer for Rubloff, said at the time.

The Turfland Town Center plan was contingent on finding a major anchor tenant to fill the former space of Dillard's, Knutson said. The concept never got off the ground.

Rubloff representatives could not be reached for comment Monday.

Switzer said he learned two months ago that the mall was for sale. It was in receivership at the time.

Switzer is a certified public accountant in the firm of Switzer McGaughey. He is from Lexington and is a graduate of Henry Clay High School and the University of Kentucky.

Asked what attracted him to the Turfland Mall property, Switzer said his investment approach has often focused on turnaround opportunities and "value investments with a high degree of upside potential."

Switzer's office and several buildings he owns are in the Harrodsburg Road area, including five buildings in Corporate Center. He owns the Blue Grass Dermatology building at 3475 Richmond Road and opened a new building on Fortune Drive in July. The Lexington Clinic and United Health Care are among the tenants.

He also owns the Lexington Athletic Club and eight athletic clubs in Tennessee, Indiana and Louisville. He has been in the restaurant business since 1973, owning KFC and Long John Silver franchises in Indiana.

Beverly Fortune: (859) 231-3251. Twitter: @BFortune2010.

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