If you’re from Fairmont, you’ve probably seen it. Morgantown resident Jeremy Groghan wants to own the Middletown Mall.
His GoFundMe page to raise $250,000 to buy the mall went viral yesterday. The mall is slated to be auctioned off at a bank trustee sale on August 30.
But it’s not just any mall. It was the state’s first enclosed shopping mall when it opened in 1972, and it routinely drew thousands of shoppers to the various stores and eateries. The merchant’s association which sponsored community events such as Halloween trick or treating dissolved about a year ago.
Now the shops and stores are all gone, except for a few smaller ones on the building’s exterior. Land surrounding the mall is a valuable commodity, and is now home to several restaurants and a hotel.
Former big-name mall tenants, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, are long gone and folks have since been predicting it will be torn down to make room for additional development.
Enter Groghan. He’s only raised $180 of his $250,000 goal, but people are sharing the post.
But it may not be easy to buy what’s left of the Middletown Mall.
Some other developers may also be interested in it.
Marion County Assessor Jim Priester said he’d heard about Groghan’s Facebook post, but he’s also been contacted by a developer with a New York City area code who’d called to inquire about the aging property.
The mall’s current owner, Steve Fansler of Pin Oak Properties, is not overdue on any taxes for this property.
“The mall property is in good standing. While the 2016 tax bill is due, it will not be delinquent until April 30, 2017,” he said.
Even if Groghan reaches his goal, it won’t nearly be enough. The mall’s market value is $20 million, though its assessed value (as per state law 60 percent of the market value) is about $13 million.
Fansler could not be reached for comment.
Another developer familiar with both Fansler and his plans for the mall believes better days are ahead for the mall.
David Biafora, co-owner of Metro Properties in Morgantown, is already working on a new development just past the mall. Metro is one of the largest developers in the North Central West Virginia, they built the Suncrest Towne Centre in Morgantown.
Site and infrastructure work is nearly complete at Riverside Commons near the mall. It will feature restaurants, retail outlets and medical offices. Construction could begin before the end of the year.
“The mall and the land around it have been a real hot topic since we started up there. I think some real good things are going to happen for Fairmont, especially since it is a great bedroom community that needs places for people to shop without having to drive 20 or 30 miles,” Biafora said.
“And the mall is going through its redevelopment so that’s also going to be a good thing. I think there are some financing things going on now, but it will all be good in the end. I don’t know it all, but I do know Steve Fansler owns the mall and wants to keep on developing it. He has a lot of things in the works,” he said.
But Groghan’s campaign continues
It has already received 1,700 shares on Facebook and he’s encouraging people to continue spreading the world about this project even if they can’t afford to donate.
If successful, he plans to revitalize the “once magnificent but now creepy and semi-derelict” by making it “great again by turning it into the area’s No. 1 year-round recreation spot.”
Picture ceilings painted to look like the sky, while half of the building will be filled with sand and water to create an indoor beach as part of the first renovations. He’s planning to sell soft drinks, funnel cakes and saltwater taffy to keep the place going, but the beach itself will be free.
And at his indoor beach Groghan promises “nobody gets eaten by a shark, or your money back.”
Phase two includes adding a souvenir shop and tanning salon, followed by the opening of a sports bar/seafood restaurant in phase three.
“Phase four is just going to be me wearing an open Hawaiin shirt and drinking umbrella drinks while laying on the fake beach every day,” he said.
Most folks have been donating $5 each, including Emily Renzelli who donated because “you’re hilarious,” according to her post.
Another $5 donor, Leah Squires, also had some advice for the budding entrepreneur.
“If it doesn’t work out, take the money and go work for comedy central or write a book. You are brilliantly hysterical,” she wrote.