As CBL’s relisted stock rises, Chattanooga-based mall developer’s CEO foresees return to growth

Nov. 3—One of America’s oldest developers of shopping malls still sees a bright future for malls, even after last year’s pandemic shutdowns and subsequent retail closings forced the developer to file for bankruptcy in November 2020.

CBL Properties Inc., the Chattanooga-based retail developer that emerged from bankruptcy this week after trimming its holdings and debt, unveiled a new website Monday urging Americans to “meet us at the mall.”

Stephen Lebovitz, the CEO of CBL and son of company founder Charles B. Lebovitz, said CBL’s malls remain vibrant town centers for business activity.

“CBL is redefining what the mall means to our communities by combining retail, dining, entertainment and other mixed uses,” Lebovitz said, quoting the company’s new website. “The redefinition of the mall is really at the core of our strategy. It’s still a mall, but it’s different than the traditional mall because of all of the other uses that are being added.”

After shedding some properties and restructuring debt under the protection of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Texas over the past year, Lebovitz said CBL “is definitely in a growth mode, and we’re excited to now be in a position to grow and to look for opportunities to grow our portfolio.”

Investors in CBL seemed to share at least some of Lebovitz’s optimism about the outlook for malls by bidding up the stock value for CBL after it was relisted on the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday following a yearlong absence.

CBL’s relisted stock opened Tuesday at $26.25 per share, well above the equity price set in the company’s bankruptcy reorganization plan of $15 a share, and rose as high as $43.50 during intraday trading before closing the day at $30 per share.

“We’re pleased but we’re not surprised,” Lebovitz said. “We think the market recognizes the value that we created through the restructuring with the elimination of some debt, the lowering of interest costs and the cash that we retained. We’re also seeing improving fundamentals in our business that have occurred with the sales growth by our retailers and better occupancy and traffic at the malls.”

Nationwide, more than 9,300 U.S. stores closed in 2019, and more than 8,300 stores shut down last year, according to the research firm Coresight. But the pace of retail closings has dropped this year, and many mall properties and tenants are adapting to the market with more online and pick-up sales for retailers and more restaurant, entertainment and medical uses of the properties.

“We’ll continue to diversify different offerings to the consumer,” Lebovitz said. “But at the end of the day, we’re still very focused on being at the heart of our community. And our malls have that critical mass that they offer local communities.”

Lebovitz, whose grandfather Moses began building shopping malls six decades ago, said malls remain important gathering spots where people can shop, eat, work and receive an array of services. Hamilton Place mall in Chattanooga, for instance, repurposed its Sears department store after its closing to make room for an Aloft hotel, a Cheesecake Factory restaurant and a Dick’s Sporting Goods store, among other uses.

Lebovitz said CBL properties like Hamilton Place are well located and well known, and with CBL’s expertise and experience, the company has a bright future. Despite the concerns and uncertainty by many when the company filed for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization plan in November 2020, Lebovitz said CBL managed to keep its team and expertise through the restructuring.

“We are extremely fortunate to have the type of team that has the loyalty, dedication and commitment to CBL to keep very focused on doing their jobs even with all of the distractions that were natural from the bankruptcy process,” he said.

Contact Dave Flessner at [email protected] or at 423-757-6340.