Southwest Plaza owner files for bankruptcy: mall managers say shoppers will be unaffected

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By AJ Vicens

Despite a bankruptcy filing last week by its parent company, Southwest Plaza’s management says shoppers should see little impact.

General Growth Properties Inc., based in Chicago, which owns Southwest Plaza and owns or manages more than 200 malls and other retail properties nationwide, filed for Chapter 11 protection April 16.

"All day-to-day operations and business of all of GGP's shopping centers and other properties will continue as usual," the company said in a statement April 22.

Signs of trouble appeared last fall when the company, the nation's second largest mall owner, had to restructure payments on more than $27 billion in debt. It was able to buy a little time but ultimately couldn't avoid bankruptcy.

"The decision to pursue reorganization under Chapter 11 came after extensive efforts to refinance or extend maturing debt outside of Chapter 11," the company said.

“Our core business remains sound and is performing well with stable cash flows,” said Adam Metz, CEO of General Growth Properties. “We believe that Chapter 11 is the best process for restructuring maturing mortgage loans, reducing the company’s corporate debt, and establishing a sustainable, long-term capital structure for the company.”

Southwest Plaza’s general manager said shoppers wouldn’t notice any immediate impacts.

"There will be no impact," said Susan Sgrignoli, the mall's general manager. "It will be business as usual in light of the company's reorganization today and into the future. Our South Jeffco customers will see no difference in how the mall has been operated for 20-plus years."

GGP bought Southwest Plaza in 1998, renovated it, and had a grand reopening in 2000, Sgrignoli said.

Sgrignoli wouldn't speculate on any potential sale of the mall.

"We can't speculate on that at this stage of this reorganization," Sgrignoli said. "It's too early to determine the future real estate strategy." She added that the company's assets are "significant."

"We really haven't noticed much," said an employee at a store inside the mall who asked not to be identified. "It's been the same number of customers coming in, and they're the ones asking what's going to happen."

"It's not looking very good," the woman said. “The mall has continually declined over the years, with the major destination stores on the outside getting most of the traffic. They (shoppers) have no reason to come in here. They need to do something else."

One woman visiting the mall April 23 called the situation "sad."

"It's kind of par for the times," said Kandie Bullock. "It wouldn't surprise me if some of the stores inside the mall close," said Bullock, noting the tough economic times.

Bullock said she's pulling for the mall to survive.

"It'd be sad to see this mall close," she said, adding that she lives in Ken Caryl and has been shopping at Southwest Plaza for years. "This is the closest mall to where I live."

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.