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BLOOMINGTON — The owners of Eastland Mall on Friday said the upcoming closure of J.C. Penney is an opportunity to reuse that retail space and the space being vacated later this month by Macy's.

J.C. Penney announced Friday the locations of 138 stores it will close, including its longtime Eastland store, that will lead to loss of 5,000 jobs nationwide.

The company said most of the closures will occur in June with liquidation beginning in April. 

City of Bloomington staff members are actively partnering with CBL & Associates Properties Inc., the company that owns and manages Eastland, to assist with the redevelopment of the J.C. Penney space, said Austin Grammer, the city's economic development coordinator.

"Obviously, big box stores are having trouble throughout the country, but this does underscore the need for us to work with Eastland Mall to help them reinvent themselves," added Mayor Tari Renner. 

The closure announcement is the second for a major Eastland retailer in recent months.

Earlier this year, Macy's announced it was closing on March 31. CBL is purchasing that property for $2 million, according to property transfer records.

"While it is unfortunate when a department store closes, we view it as an opportunity to recapture underperforming space and deliver a fresh new mix that drives increased traffic and sales to the entire property," CBL spokesman Stacey Keating said in an email on Friday.

"In anticipation of these closures at Eastland, we have engaged in discussions with tenants for both locations. However, it is too early to announce concrete plans or potential tenants." 

The 71,000-square-foot J.C. Penney opened in November 1966 at what was then called Eastland Shopping Center.

The closure of the 154,000-square-foot Macy's store, open since 2006, will affect 55 employees. It is unknown how many employees the local J.C. Penney store has.

Grammer said he is optimistic that CBL will be successful in redeveloping the J.C. Penney and Macy's spaces in light of the recent investments nearby in the Empire Street/Veterans Parkway corridor by a number of national retailers, including Dick’s Sporting Goods, PetSmart, HomeGoods, Fresh Thyme, Five Below, Designer Shoe Warehouse (DSW), OshKosh B’Gosh and others yet to come.

Several of the new stores opened in the former 88,000-square-foot Kmart store that the developer subdivided to create multiple spaces for retailers. 

“We've seen in the age of people shopping online that the small specialty stores do better than the big box stores. I believe the figure is that there has not been an enclosed mall that has been built in the United States in the last decade,” said Renner.

Renner noted the conversion of Normal's College Hills Mall, which opened in 1980 as an enclosed shopping center and later was largely demolished and rebuilt in 2005 as the Shoppes at College Hills, an outdoor center that retained the original mall's anchor stores as standalone buildings.

“That's what I mean by helping (Eastland Mall) reinvent themselves,” said Renner.

But Gordman's in the Shoppes at College Hills is among other recent retail stores in trouble, with the parent company filing bankruptcy last week and the company announcing liquidation of its 160-plus stores.

Other recent store closings in the Twin Cities include MC Sports, The Limited, Radio Shack and two Gap stores, all at Eastland Mall.

Renner said Bloomington and Normal raising their sales tax in 2015 one percentage point to 8.75 percent is not related to the store closings.

If that were the case, Macy's would have closed its store in Champaign that has a higher local sales tax "rather the one in Bloomington,” said Renner. “That's not what national chain stores are looking at. They need raw sales.”

Renner added: “Even with the one penny increase, we have the lowest sales tax of any of the metropolitan areas in Central Illinois. We're lower than Decatur, Champaign, Urbana, Peoria and Springfield. Those are at least 9 percent except us.”

Other J.C. Penney stores in Illinois on the closure list include ones in Canton, Effingham, Macomb, Peru, Sterling and Woodridge.

In addition to the store closings, J.C. Penney also will close a supply facility in Florida and relocate a supply facility in California. The company said it will provide outplacement support services for those eligible associates who will be leaving the company.

"The national retail landscape is constantly changing and retailers must adapt and evolve to meet the demands of the consumer," said Grammer.

"Unfortunately, the corporate leaders of J.C. Penney have been unable to adequately respond to changes in the marketplace on the national level."

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Follow Maria Nagle on Twitter: @pg_nagle


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