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Renovations give Town Center modern feel

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Charleston Town Center has had a $7 million facelift as the shopping mecca prepares to celebrate its 30th anniversary.

Forest City Enterprises Inc., which owns the Town Center, invested the $7 million last year to completely overhaul the mall's flooring, railing and other facilities.

Town Center marketing director Lisa McCracken said the renovations now give the mall a sleeker, more contemporary look and feel.

In particular, she said the renovation of the mall's Center Court — which included removing a nearly 30-year-old fountain and replacing it with couch and bar seating — have made the mall more attractive to young professionals in the area.

"The renovations at Center Court have been extremely well-received by hotel guests and our everyday customers," McCracken said.

Center Court has long been home to the popular Starbucks coffee chain. With the addition of Wi-Fi — not just in the court, but throughout the mall — more people are now coming to the mall to network and work away from the home or office.

McCracken said having Wi-Fi is essential for many modern consumers, who like the be connected to internet and use social networks as they are out on the town.

She said the addition of new seating areas and technology has helped prepare the mall for the consumers of tomorrow.

"This is a major investment that Forest City has made prior to our 30-year anniversary, and it prepares the shopping center for the next 30 years," she said.

The Town Center also partnered with Charleston Area Medical Center to open a new indoor play area, dubbed the "Play Patch," on Dec. 17.

The approximately 1,100-square-foot fruit-and-vegetable-themed play area is an attempt by CAMC and the mall to encourage children to eat healthy foods and exercise.

The Town Center has certainly evolved since it first opened in 1983.

At the time, the 933,979-square-foot mall was the largest urban shopping center east of the Mississippi River.

The mall has had to adapt to the constant changes in the retail market over the years. That included moving beyond just providing retail space.

"Malls evolve," McCracken said. "Charleston Town Center has become a mixed-use center."

The biggest challenge the mall faced was when Montgomery Ward — which was one of four original anchor stores at the mall — announced it would close in late 2000.

Eventually, Forest City executives were able to ink a deal in 2006 with Brickstreet Insurance to move into the location.

"What a wonderful opportunity that we were able to work with and attract Brickstreet Insurance to that location," McCracken said.

She said Brickstreet now provides 400 employees who park, work, eat and shop around mall property each day.

The upstairs food court has also evolved over the years.

Instead of the former 360-degree ring of food stores, the north side of the food court houses eateries, while the south side is home to the offices of the West Virginia Bureau of Senior Services.

McCracken said that brought an additional 50 employees to work daily at the mall.

While some stores closed on the food court level, additional restaurants opened along Court Street over the years.

Most recently, Five Guys Hamburgers and Fries and Qdoba Mexican Grill opened along the Court Street side of the mall.

The Outback and Chili's restaurants have also renewed their leases with further renovations to their dining rooms on the way.

McCracken said the mall's ability to provide a variety of dining options — either in the food court, or in restaurants along Court and Clendenin streets — has been a key to its success.

"The Charleston Town Center has long been the dining center for young professionals in Charleston," she said.

The mall has also begun catering to more high-end tastes in the last year with the opening of new stores Sephora, White House Black Market, Coach and Francesca's.

The expansion will continue in 2013 as well.

Mall officials recently signed a lease with Express — which used to be a mall tenant — to move into the former Abercrombie & Fitch location on the mall's second floor.

In addition to taking over the Abercrombie space, Express will expand into the space previously occupied by the Lids store. In turn, Lids is moving across the way to an expanded store location next to the FYE store.

Officials have also signed a new lease to bring West Virginia's first Teavana specialty tea shop to the space formerly occupied by the Frontier Communications store.

McCracken also said a new Zumiez store will cater to the younger demographic.

The Seattle-based board store specializes in marketing "cutting edge clothing, footwear, accessories, DVDs, hard goods for skate and snow for active lifestyles," according to the company's website.

"It's going to be a high school boy's dream come true," McCracken said of the store.

All three new stores are expected to open in the first half of 2013, in time for the mall's 30th anniversary celebration.

McCracken said that in addition to opening new stores, the mall plans to offer specials to customers throughout the year.

One particular special includes rewarding random customers at the mall's stores and restaurants with gift cards on the 30th of each month.

McCracken said that the mall will have a prize patrol that will patrol the mall and into its restaurants and award random customers with mall gift cards valued between $30 and $100.

Contact writer Jared Hunt at jared.hunt@dailymail.com or 304-348-5148.


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