Popular gym leaves Whitehall Mall as landlord promises redevelopment plan

A fitness center would be more than 15 years old Whitehall Shopping Center has pulled out, leading to a growing number of vacancies, as the mall owner sets out to redevelop the once-bustling shopping destination.

PA Fitness Whitehall, rebranded from the former Gold’s Gym, was vacant this week at the shopping centre, on the northeast corner of Grape Street and MacArthur Road in Whitehall Township. Gold’s Gym in May 2020 filed voluntary petitions for reparation under Chapter 11 bankruptcy for the purpose of financially restructuring the company. Gold then closed locations in the now defunct Phillipsburg Mall, bordering Lopatcong and Pohatcong townships; at the Lehigh Mall in Bethlehem; and in Allentown. There are no Gold’s Gym locations in Pennsylvania currently listed on the company’s website.

Gold’s opened around 2006 in a space that previously housed the Plaza Theater and Leh Department Store. The theater and Leh’s both closed in the mid-1990s, according to the Morning Call Newspaper.

The reason for PA Fitness’s closure is unclear. A spokeswoman for Columbus, Ohio-based Washington Prime Group, the real estate investment trust that owns Whitehall Mall, passed on her comments to gym representatives. The regional fitness entrepreneur who opened the facility did not immediately return a request for information, nor did PA Fitness. The phone number listed for PA Fitness was also disconnected on Wednesday.

PA Fitness is the latest retailer to close in the closed mall, which has faced major financial difficulties amid the coronavirus pandemic. The closure of the gymnasium brings the total number of vacancies inside the mall to about three. However, security barriers closed most retailers this week around lunchtime, and there were signs that other shops were closed until mid-afternoon or “by appointment “. ComicMasters is completely closed on Mondays.

A nail salon, pet store, D&M Snacks, Video & More, and Kohl’s department store remain open in the gated portion of the mall.

At the open-air Whitehall Mall, vacancies remain between Magical Massage and Sundance Vacation, as well as where Sears, Sears Auto, Old Country Buffet and Michaels previously occupied.

The mall lost Sears in winter 2020, along with Sears Auto. The Whitehall Mall Sears was among the 96 Sears and Kmart nationwide sites to be axed by newly formed parent company Transformco Co. in a bid to streamline operations. Transform was formed after Sears Holdings declared bankruptcy in October 2018.

Old Country Buffet closed in October 2020. A press release later attributed the closure, which also included other national locations, to low revenues even before the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the expiration of its leases. Michaels moved just before the March 2020 closing to a space previously hosted by Babies ‘R’ Us across Grape Street at the Lehigh Valley Mall.

Anchors Bed Bath & Beyond, Buy Buy Baby and Raymour & Flanigan remain open at the mall, along with smaller retailers such as Men’s Wearhouse, Shoe Carnival, Lane Bryant and Five Below.

At least three vacancies remained this week in the closed shopping centre, on the northeast corner of Grape Street and MacArthur Road in the township of Whitehall. PA Fitness, the mall’s tenant for more than 15 years, is the latest to close.

Washington Prime Group remains on track to redevelop the mall in late 2022. Plans are in the early stages, with a focus on redevelopment of existing enclosed retail space and refreshing the mall with new new tenants.

“…We expect to be under construction by the end of 2022,” a Washington Prime Group spokeswoman told lehighvalleylive.com this week. “Whitehall Mall remains committed to serving as a gathering space in the community and providing a vibrant mix of options for our customers.”

When asked specifically if there were plans to demolish one of the vacant old anchors or the building that housed Old Country Buffet, the spokeswoman said the information was not yet available, noting the preliminary stages of the project.

“The redevelopment is in its early planning stages and more information will be provided to lehighvalleylive.com as it becomes available,” she said.

The spokeswoman also declined to say whether the Washington Prime Group was looking at any of the suggestions for a concept approved by the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission. The commission, using Whitehall Mall as an example of what might work elsewhere, showed the interior of the demolished Whitehall Mall, with the site eventually giving rise to six-storey buildings that would include new housing.

Main Washington Group filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in June 2021, citing challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic. So did two of the region’s other largest mall owners, CBL & Associates and Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT), in November 2020. The latter co-owns the Lehigh Valley Mall, which is in opposite the Whitehall Mall and stands today as the region’s premier shopping destination.

All have found a way out of bankruptcy and have drawn up financial plans for restructuring.

In its heyday, Whitehall Mall was one of Pennsylvania’s first enclosed malls. When it opened in 1966, the shopping destination had 52 stores, including Woolworth, Weis Markets and the Zollinger department store. It was the setting for proms and the circus and there were exotic birds in cages and majestic fountains. The developers then promised a modern day dream, touting it as a cross between “The Jetsons” and the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, the Morning call reports.

This week, parking lots with spaces for thousands of vehicles surrounding the mall were nearly empty. Gone are the bottlenecks that would once have flowed into the mall at multiple times of the day.

Washington Prime Group owned half of the Whitehall Mall in 2014. That year, it purchased the other half from PREIT. The company currently has nearly 100 indoor and outdoor shopping destinations in 29 states, according to its website.

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Pamela Sroka-Holzmann can be contacted at [email protected].

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