The Crossroads Center mall in St. Cloud — the largest regional shopping mall in the state outside the Twin Cities — could be sold or placed on the foreclosure auction block.
The mall's owner, New York-based Brookfield Properties, has remained delinquent on its loan for more than two years after financial setbacks it experienced during the pandemic. The entirety of its loan — pegged at $90 million in 2020 — was due last month.
"Brookfield continues to own and operate Crossroads Center," the company said in a Friday statement to the Star Tribune. "We are constructively working with the lender to identify the best possible outcome for the future of the shopping center community."
Brookfield did not give any other details.
Brookfield had been in negotiations to possibly modify its loan, but it's unclear if those discussions are still ongoing. According to April commentary from the loan's special servicer reported by analytics and research firm Trepp, Brookfield "is unwilling to inject additional funds into loan," meaning the Crossroads Center could be sold or foreclosed.
"It's always fluid," said Trepp's senior managing director Manus Clancy. "Nothing is really set in stone until a transaction takes place."
Inside the mall, several stores and free-standing booths that endured for years or decades have disappeared, including Orange Julius, J. Jill and Sears. Some of those spots have been reimagined, such as the former Sears anchor space being divided into several stores — DSW Designer Shoe Warehouse, Ulta Beauty and HomeGoods. Meanwhile, longtime anchor stores J.C. Penney, Macy's, Scheels All Sports and Target remain.
Vacant storefronts are hidden by colorful signage or window dressings that advertise stores in other parts of the mall. A large sign covering a storefront on the south side by Chico's and Victoria's Secret says jewelry store Pandora will open in summer 2023.
Jeff Heitzman, 33, of Sauk Centre sees the mall as a place to kill time such as last Tuesday when he visited with his wife and four kids in between dentist appointments and a dinner with grandparents.
"They like it for the food court — the pretzel place. That's what they look forward to," he said of his children, who range in age from 3 to 10.
Heitzman said he loved going to Crossroads Center as a kid and often finds himself pointing out his favorite old haunts to his family. But a lot has changed in terms of the atmosphere and retail offerings.
"It's definitely not like the early 2000s when I was coming here," he said.
Sarah Johnson, manager of women's boutique Glik's, and other mall employees said they are not worried that the mall will close.
"They're building a Pandora so they can't be that concerned," said Johnson, who has worked in the mall for about a year. She said management has relayed to tenants how they plan to fill vacant stores by focusing first on the main corridor between Macy's and J.C. Penney and then filling spots elsewhere.
Clancy said he has been shocked by how so many borrowers have been able to extend loans, even late into negotiations, after falling behind on payments. Likely part of the reason is because projects to repurpose malls are still rare and expensive.
Lenders, Clancy said, figure it is better to keep the original borrower — or "the devil we know" — than to sell it cheaply to a bargain buyer who would end up letting the property fall into disrepair.
Clancy specifically noted that the last resort is usually a purchase from the likes of such firms as the Kohan Retail Investment Group, the company that in 2020 bought the majority stake in the Burnsville Center at auction. Special servicers usually hold out hope for better outcomes before resorting to that path, he said.
The Kohan group infamously allowed the Northland Mall in Worthington, Minn. to deteriorate, and the mall was eventually closed and razed.
Brookfield first fell 30 days behind on making loan payments for Crossroads Center in September 2020, according to Trepp. Similar to many other shopping centers across the country, including the Mall of America, the Crossroads owners had to deal with depleted sales during the pandemic caused by mandated store closings and more people reverting to buying products online.
In October 2020, the loan was transferred to a special servicer "for imminent default related to the pandemic," according to Fitch Ratings, a credit rating agency. The mall's occupancy has declined since 2016. As of September 2022, the Crossroads Center was about 87% leased.
"I'm amazed how many stores are closed now. It's been like that for a while," said Joyce Dobmeier of Freeport, who likes to visit Crossroads Center once a week, generally during the day when it's less busy. Dobmeier said she also uses the mall as a place to walk in the winter — and the browsing is a bonus.
"I've never done an online order," she said. "I like to go to the mall and shop."