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SOUTHFIELD, MI-The management of Northland Center, which took over the 2 million sf mall in 2000, is still trying to turn the complex around. While general manager Larry Ruppert points to many improvements, including better landscaping and a larger retail mix, he admits the large mall is still struggling to fill two anchor holes where Montgomery Ward and JCPenneys have closed.

The mall has also struggled with rumors of a high crime rate–Ruppert says they are false–and age.

Northland Center is Michigan’s largest mall, and the state’s oldest. Northland is 46 years old, and has seen better years. It’s now about 85% occupied, including the two vacant stores.

“But if you don’t count the two large vacancies, we’re about 95% occupied,” Ruppert tells

He says it’s been hard to get major retailers interested in taking over the two closed stores.

“Most retailers are not in expansion mode with the economy where it is today. There’s only a handful of department stores that have done well in the last year,” he says.

Instead, Ruppert is considering splitting Montgomery Ward up into two or three big-box offerings.

“We’re definitely considering configuration of the current building, possibly by clothing or home decor big box users,” he adds.

There also are plans to entice a sports center, such as a bar with sports fields and basketball courts, similar to the Joe Dumars Fieldhouse in Utica, MI.

It’s not possible for the mall owners to turn over the JCPenney’s space, which is owned by a third party, an insurance institute from New York. He says the institute, who he declined to name, doesn’t seem to care what happens to the vacant JCPenney’s store.

“We’d buy it, but the numbers don’t make sense. It would cost too much to reconfigure. It just doesn’t work for us,” Ruppert says.

Hopefully, he says, the public will see that there is a large police presence at the mall, and will notice the landscaping and tenant improvements that have been made, and will shop en masse at the mall again.

GP Northland Center LLC of Maple Shade, NJ bought the asset from Equitable Life Assurance Society of Atlanta. The mall is the largest parcel in the company’s portfolio, which includes malls and strip centers in five Eastern states.

Northland is one of several malls in the Southeast Michigan area that have changed hands in the last two years.

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