Washington Square Mall Schnucks Project Moves Forward

By Kayla Moody

Published 08/27 2014 05:47PM

Updated 08/27 2014 06:13PM

Major changes could be just around the corner for Evansville's dated Washington Square Mall property. There has been talk of bringing a Schnucks to the mall for years, leaving some wondering if the grocery store would ever be built there. Monday Evansville City Council signed off on a tax phase-in that appears to be putting the proposed development in motion.

Sylvia Gehlhausen is among many shoppers who say Washington Square was quite the place to be in its day.

"I remember when they opened here at Washington Square," said Gehlhausen. "I was here the day they opened for the first time."

Over the years, the 60-year-old structure has seen businesses come and go. The departures seeming all too frequent to those who remember it from its hay day.

"People who have lived here for a long time just remember what this mall used to be and what it could be and I think some are just sad to let it go," said Presley.

Gene Hahn has owned the mall for 11 years. During that time he says he's invested $5 to 7 million in addition to what he originally payed for the property. The expenses mainly covered general maintenance to keep the building operational. Hahn says the building is due for a major face lift.

"You can't just use a paint brush on something like," said Hahn, who says the improvements needed to bring more development to the property will be very expensive.

Hahn went before Evansville City Council Monday, asking for a seven year tax phase-in for the property amounting to about $1 million. It was approved, clearing the way for plans to bring a 70,000 sq. ft. Schnucks to Washington Square Mall.

"Hopefully this will be a springboard for the entire area," said Hahn.

Schnucks is expected to replace the old Merchant Outlet Mall.The hope is that it will help revitalize Washington Square.

"I like it the way it is, but everything has to change and I think Schnuck's is a positive change for the future," said Shirley Land, who frequently walks and shops at the mall. "I think it's going to create jobs which our community very much needs and the other thing is it's going to be a convenience especially for the walkers that are in here to shop for the other things we may need that we would have to go somewhere else. So I think it's gonna be great."

Others, like Matt Presley, aren't as optimistic. Presley says his childrens' doctor brings him to the mall, but his family doesn't do much shopping there. "Unfortunately I think it's gonna end up kinda like Sears where people come into Sears but don't come into the rest of the mall. So having a Schnucks over here will be great. I really don't know it's going to help revitalize the mall in the way that people who have lived in Evansville for a really long time would like to see."

Hahn says he does think Schnucks will help bring new life to Washington Square. The prospect of another large department store is out of the question, because there's not enough room. But he says he's already receiving applications from investors wanting to open stores inside the mall.

"That in and of itself tells you that there's a demand if the place looks right," added Hahn.

Schnucks says it is finalizing a lease with Hahn. Once that's finished, a company representative says construction will get underway. Schnucks plans to lease or sell its Washington Avenue location. Hahn says his company, Hahn Realty Corporation, will likely help with that.

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