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N. Side Ward’s closes quietly; El Con store closes March 18


Citizen Business Writer

Montgomery Ward stole quietly into the night at its Oracle Road location, ceasing operation March 4 without even saying good-bye to the landlord.

Ward’s at El Con Mall also hasn’t notified mall officials that March 18 will be the final discount shopping day at Tucson’s other Ward’s retail location.

Building owner George Larsen found out Thursday that Ward’s had left his building in the Copper Creek Center several days earlier.

“I don’t know when they closed. Nobody here knows when they closed,” said Larsen of Larsen-Baker, a partnership that owns 31 shopping centers in Tucson.

David Winter, the Ward manager at El Con, said that store will close March 18. He said the Oracle store closed March 4.

Otherwise, he declined comment and Ward’s corporate officials did not return calls yesterday.

Neither Larsen-Baker nor El Con are showing much dismay at Ward’s disappearance.

Larsen said vacancies don’t last long on Oracle Road and he figures his 102,525-square-foot building could have a new tenant in three to six months.

Ward’s departure at El Con is just another part of that mall’s redevelopment effort. El Con already has one empty big box, the Dillard’s that closed in May.

“It actually is a good time, if there is a good time, for this to happen,” said Susan Allen, El Con’s marketing director.

Ward’s announced in December that the company planned to close all its stores in the coming months, but didn’t communicate directly with El Con or Larsen-Baker until weeks later.

Ward’s filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and the future of the leases at both Tucson stores rests in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. Indications are the court wants to sell the Ward leases to one buyer or a small number of buyers looking to assume the leases of an entire region.

Several national retailers, including May Department Stores, have voiced interest in the Ward’s leases.

Allen hopes whoever gets the Ward’s lease at El Con fits into the mall’s redevelopment plan, which calls for a community plaza setting befitting of the mall’s new name: Plazas at El Con.

The early stages of redevelopment work at the mall include the completion by yesterday of mitigation work for the surrounding neighborhood. El Con has built buffer walls and planted landscaping to please neighbors.

The passageway walls leading through the future food court to the movie theaters have been taken down. El Con anticipates making announcements soon on which tenants will be in the food court, Allen said.

Larsen-Baker will either see someone assume a 12-year-old, low-rent lease or will offer a new lease. The partners can set a higher rent but then they would incur tenant improvement expenses.

“Whatever happens happens,” Larsen said. “Short-term pain is long-term gain.”

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