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Charleston Town Center celebrates renovation, 30th anniversary

The Charleston Town Center celebrated the completion of a $7 million renovation and kicked off its 30th anniversary with a gala celebration at Center Court that brought together key people who helped get the shopping center built.

Among the key people at Tuesday's celebration:

* Anthony "Tony" Cafaro Sr., retired president of the Cafaro Co. The company owns 50 percent of the mall.

* James Ratner, an executive vice president of Forest City Enterprises Inc. and chairman and chief executive officer of Forest City Commercial Group, the company's commercial real estate development and management division. Forest City owns 50 percent of the mall and manages it.

* Tom Gilkeson, the first manager of the mall. He is now Forest City's vice president of retail operations.

* Duane Bishop, chief operating officer of Forest City's Commercial Division.

* Pat Brown, who was executive director of the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority when the mall was begun. The authority continues to own the land under the mall and receives much of its funding from the parking garages.

Charleston Mayor Danny Jones presented Ratner and Cafaro with keys to the city.

"What this mall symbolizes to me is change and the vision to bring change to this community, to have a successful downtown mall," Jones said. "It was unique at the time.

"This mall has evolved and still evolves," he said. "In the wake of the crash of 2008, this one kept right on ticking. It's now been through an almost $8 million renovation. We who come here every day, we all assume a little ownership in this mall.

"We're grateful this is here, that we had visionary people who had the dream to make this come true, that kept the downtown going. This mall has had a somewhat rainbow effect that stretched to the rest of the city."

The shopping center's renovations include a new fountain and new Center Court, new flooring on all three floors, renovated restrooms, new lighting, fresh paint, a new logo and new signage.

"Thanks to our customers for supporting us these past 30 years," Gilkeson said. "We appreciate your patronage and your support during the renovation. We know it was an inconvenience. We look forward to your support in the coming years."

Tuesday's event featured live jazz performed by the Bob Thompson Unit, lots of refreshments and many live poinsettias.

Last year Forest City sold the Charleston Marriott Town Center hotel to Inland American Lodging Advisor for $25.5 million.

Nowadays the materials Forest City distributes to investors and Wall Street analysts say the company is focusing on its core markets, which are big metropolitan areas like New York City. The materials do not mention Charleston.

Gilkeson said in an interview, "Although Charleston is not a core market it is considered a 'fortress shopping center' meaning that it performs very well. So it is a long-term asset. Although it's not a core market, we will still invest money into the shopping center as well as invest in improving our tenant mix.

"We've always found our merchandise mix at the Charleston Town Center is comparable to any of our shopping centers across the country," he said. "We work hard at it. I think the recent openings of Sephora, White House Black Market, Coach and Francesca's shows we have a market for those types of retailers. I think we'll see continued growth with that level of tenants."

Gilkeson said the mall continues to draw from a large region.

"Part of the attraction as well when it opened was we were a true mixed-use development," he said. "We had the shopping center, the civic center, the hotels and office buildings. So there was a lot of incentive for people to come here."

Renovations are not yet complete, Gilkeson said.

"The next phase is going to be the exterior. We're in the process of developing plans for Court Street. We need to make it more user friendly, try to update it as we can. We're working with our restaurants on Court Street. As they get ready to remodel, I think they're doing more like Five Guys has done."

Gilkeson called the Cafaro Co. a good partner and said he anticipates no change in the relationship between Cafaro and Forest City. Contact writer George Hohmann at or 304-348-4836. Follow him at ;;


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