MLB talks could cut short Lloyd Center’s oddball

An influx of independent shops is breathing new life into the beleaguered Lloyd Center, but that momentum might be short-lived.

Multiple sources told The Oregonian/OregonLive this week that the Portland Diamond Project is zeroing in on the struggling mall as a possible site for a major league ballpark. It remains unclear how far negotiations with mall owners KKR or its local partners, Urban Renaissance Group, have advanced, much less whether a relocation or expansion team would land in Portland or who would pay for a big new stadium.

It’s been clear the mall is in transition. Seized in foreclosure in 2021, it had already shed many of its tenants, among them mall anchors including Nordstrom in 2015, Sears and Marshalls in 2018 and Macy’s in 2021. But it’s brought in a cadre of local businesses instead, including some that likely would have remained just a dream but for the cheap rent and turnkey location.

It also has hosted quirky events like the Secret Roller Disco and the Mall Rats Art Market and maintained its signature — albeit downsized in the most recent renovation — ice skating rink.

Store operators at the mall say they hadn’t heard about the baseball stadium talks from the mall owners, but they’re not surprised. The mall’s owners had offered only relatively short lease terms and signaled that changes were coming.

Other rumors have swirled among shopkeepers, including that entire wings or anchor store shells might be torn down for new condos or apartments.

Tom Kilbane, the managing director in Portland for Urban Renaissance Group, did not return calls.

Wyatt Savage said he had heard of the possibility, first reported in 2019, of turning the Lloyd Center into a baseball stadium long before he opened Pallet Portland in the mall.

He said he signed an 18-month lease when he moved his shop from downtown to the Lloyd Center three months ago after a string of break-ins and costly repairs at the downtown store.

Savage said he was initially eyeing spots in the Hollywood and Hawthorne districts but the rents were too high. He said he was drawn to the Lloyd Center because of the security an enclosed mall provides and cheaper rent.

“The rent here is way below market rate,” he said. “I’m paying a third less than what I was paying for the space across from Director Park.”

Savage said he pays less than $1 per square foot for the 4,000 square feet storefront at the Lloyd Center. That’s much less than what he had to pay for a 1,500-square-foot downtown space, which came out to roughly $7,000 per month.

“I would really appreciate a longer term lease, but I know they’re not offering longer term leases,” he said. “And that’s just kind of something that I’ve accepted.”

Although Savage thinks a ballpark at the Lloyd Center is “far-fetched,” he said he wouldn’t be opposed to the idea if the mall were to make its current retailers a part of the stadium complex.

“It’s a cool fantasy if they built a stadium and offered storefronts that are already here a choice to stay and be part of the stadium,” Savage said. “But I think you’d have to be borderline insane to want to invest in putting up a baseball stadium here. I imagine it’d cost millions of dollars just to tear down the Lloyd Center.”

Mark Benthimer, owner of All American Magic Theater, said management hasn’t shared any plans to turn the mall into a baseball stadium. He thinks it’s unlikely that the mall will turn into a ballpark due to the lack of a team. But he said he’d be sad to see them go through.

Mark Benthimer, owner of All American Magic Theater, practices a card trick at his business on May 23, 2023.

Mark Benthimer, owner of All American Magic Theater, practices a card trick at his business on May 23, 2023.

“Lloyd Center has always been at the top of my list for setting up a magic shop. It’s a staple in Portland and has so much history,” said Benthimer, who moved his magic shop to the Lloyd Center in April 2022. Previously, his shop was at Mall 205 in east Portland, and before that, at Jantzen Beach, Washington Square and a location at the Oregon coast.

Brenthimer said management at the Lloyd Center has been “great to work with” and that he hopes the mall will be around for years longer. He said he has another year left in his lease.

“The mall is a lot safer, and management has been open to new ideas and has been supportive of its tenants with what they want to do with their space,” he said. “There’s been at least 20 new shops that have opened up since I moved in over a year ago.”

Benthimer’s 4,600-square-foot magic shop at the Lloyd Center also features a small theater space and a hang-out spot in the back of the store, where local magicians can “gather, hang out and practice magic” during store hours. Compared to his previous spot at Mall 205, he said foot traffic has been much higher at Lloyd Center, and picking up.

James Lucas opened Brickdiculous, a Lego shop, last November. He said he’s friends with the owners of the two businesses sandwiching his shop and that they convinced him to sign a short-term lease at the Lloyd Center.

“It was my choice to do a one-year lease since it’s a brand new business,” Lucas said. “I was really drawn to the Lloyd Center because this was the first neighborhood I lived in when I first moved to Portland 23 years ago, and I just love the area.”

Brickdiculous owner James Lucas in his store on May 23, 2023.

Brickdiculous owner James Lucas in his store on May 23, 2023.

He said although he hasn’t heard specific plans from the mall’s owners, he said managers have “always been clear that there could be changes coming to the mall” and that retail would be included in that future.

He said his lease at the Lloyd Center is set to expire next April and that he’s not sure whether he will renew. But so far, he said, his experience with management and the space has been positive.

“The mall feels more community-driven, like there’s a lot of independently-owned businesses here and I find that really appealing,” Lucas said. “Foot traffic has gone up and down, but I’m optimistic that it’s going to pick up as the summer arrives.”

The Lloyd Center Mall in Portland was built 61 years ago, but the Texas-based commercial real estate firm that previously owned the mall had defaulted on a $177 million loan toward the mall’s extensive renovations during the mid-2010s.

Despite the renovation, the mall struggled to turn things around. Major tenants left and shopping traffic continued to decline. Plans to pivot to an entertainment district, complete with a bowling alley and concert venue, never materialized.

KKR Real Estate Finance Trust, a New York lender, announced plans to repossess the Lloyd Center in 2021. Later that year, Urban Renaissance Group, a Seattle-based developer, said it would partner with KKR to revamp the shopping center. But their long-term vision for the mall hasn’t been clear since.

–Kristine de Leon; kdeleon@oregonian.com

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