Renovation of the Natchez shopping center, cinema negotiations are progressing
Posted at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, September 3, 2022
NATCHEZ — The Natchez shopping center has taken on a different appearance in recent months.
Since the April announcement of plans to turn the building into an outdoor mall, indoor stores have moved to the front of the building or to other parts of Natchez. A single mall tenant, Cato, maintains an indoor store with no exterior entrances, said Evan Smith, who is the asset manager for AZT Corporation.
“Our long-term plan is to create more of an outdoor mall,” Smith said. “It’s not over yet. We still have a tenant operating in the mall.
Belk’s two exterior entrances are nearing completion, and work will continue on the mall’s main entrance, Smith said.
“We should have completed the construction of two new large entrances in Belk in the next two weeks and we are doing the same for the main entrance, but instead of one entrance these will be new spaces for commercial tenants. It will be repainted and Belk will get a similar refresh.
Since Hibbett Sports moved from the inside to the outside of the mall, the store has seen “a big boost for its business,” Smith said. Additionally, Belk signed a lease to be at the Natchez mall for at least eight years, he said.
Smith said there is no specific timeline for the mall’s renovation to be completed, as there are a lot of pieces of work for that to happen.
One aspect of renovating the mall is finding a new tenant for the movie theater.
Cineworld, Regal’s parent company, announced in October 2020 that operations at 536 Regal theaters in the United States would cease, including the Natchez Mall theatre.
Since 2020, no film has been shown there. A sign at the front of the property said “temporarily closed” for two years, leaving many wondering if there will ever be a Natchez cinema again.
Cineworld Group, a UK-based company, plans to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the US and insolvency proceedings in the UK.
If all goes according to plan, Smith said a modernized theater will reopen with “the right buyer.” Negotiations with multiple theater operators are ongoing, Smith said.
Old cinema seats have been removed from the building and temporarily piled up in the back of the mall in recent weeks. It was part of the preparation for a new theatre, he said.
“We’re preparing it for the right buyer to retrofit it,” he said. “Any theater company that wants to be there would want to have modern seating. We are excited to finalize the sale of the cinema. The cinema industry has been significantly impacted by COVID-19, so this is taking time.”