Orchards Mall owners given 30 days to develop a new proposal for the property
BENTON CHARTER TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- To say the Orchards Mall has seen better days is an understatement.
The anchor stores, like JC Penney, Sears and Carsons, pulled up stakes years ago.
Now the mall is mostly abandoned, save for a couple stores.
The parking lot is a no man's land of pot holes, and the seagulls, which used the property as a breeding ground, are returning.
Berrien County's Third District Commissioner Chokwe Pitchford ran on the promise of demolishing the mall, and cited it as an eyesore.
But now he says, that's not an option.
"We can't just tear down that mall," Pitchford said to me in a phone call this morning. "No one can just take a wrecking ball to private property."
He said despite the complaints, the building still has promise, and after sitting down with Benton Charter Township representatives, state rep Joey Andrews and the mall's ownership, Bendi and Associates, there may be some positive change on the horizon.
Pitchford said "From that conversation, I was guaranteed that in the month of May, I will see solid plans that I could take to my partners, whether that's the township or the state or our state representative, and say that this is something that is real, this is something that is concrete and that we should move forward on it."
He added that the mall's owners are working to pay off roughly $200,000 in back taxes.
Its currently unclear which path forward the mall will go down, but Pitchford was clear that it will have to benefit the community somehow.
"That is what our North Star has to be," he said. "We've got to find a point where we can all come together and find that thing that unites us all. Is it a banquet hall? Is it a reduced mall footprint? Is it apartments? What is it going to be, and how can we get this spurred and economically moving."
Pitchford remembered walking through the Orchards Mall as a child in its heyday, citing memories of the B. Dalton's bookstore and the FYE, and said he has a personal stake in stopping its decay.
"Now, when I walk through, it feels like a piece of my childhood has been ripped out of this community," he said. "So I am just as emotionally invested as everyone else to see this property come back to life."
It's currently unclear, however, what exactly will happen if a proposal is not presented by the May 19 deadline, however Pitchford believed that the conversations with the owners will bring something to the table.
We have reached out to a mall representative, though they did not offer any comment.