By Bob Uphues
Retail giant J.C. Penney is expected to exit Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection by the end of the month after a U.S. District Court judge in Texas on Nov. 9 approved the sale of the company to a pair of shopping mall operators and a group of creditors.
Simon Property Group and Brookfield Asset Management will acquire J.C. Penney's retail and operating assets for a reported $1.75 billion. The sale will be accomplished through a combination of cash and new term loan debt, according to a press release issued by J.C. Penney last week.
"Our goal from the beginning of this process has been to ensure J.C. Penney will continue to serve customers for decades to come and this court approval accomplishes that objective," said Jill Soltau, chief executive officer of J.C. Penney in the press release.
Once the sale is finalized, Simon Property Group and Brookfield Asset Management will begin the process of transferring 160 properties in addition to all of J.C. Penney's distribution centers to a newly formed real estate investment trust owned by J.C. Penney's creditors.
J.C. Penney owns many retail stores that serve as anchor retailers at shopping malls throughout the country, including its anchor property at North Riverside Park Mall. The property assets to be folded into the real estate investment trust have not yet been publicly identified.
Once the property transfer is complete, the real estate trust and Simon/Brookfield retail operation will enter into a master lease agreement, with the retail stores renting space from the trust.
The arrangement recalls the one created when Sears spun off its real estate assets by forming Seritage Growth Properties in 2015. Sears sold its real estate assets to Seritage in order to obtain cash and then leased back the retail spaces.
But such lease arrangements aren't guarantees for the future. Less than two years after Seritage acquired the Sears property in North Riverside, the retailer consolidated its operations onto one level while Seritage sought other tenants for the lower level.
Earlier this year, Seritage terminated its master lease agreement with 12 of its 17 Sears tenants, including the one in North Riverside, which closed its doors for good in September.
After seeking bankruptcy protection in May, J.C. Penney announced it would be closing 160 of its 840 retail stores. More stores are expected to close following the sale of the company, but it is unclear just how many or where.
For now, the J.C. Penney store at North Riverside Park Mall has been spared and looks like it will continue to operate moving forward.
J.C. Penney is the only remaining anchor tenant at North Riverside Mall. The 181,000-square-foot former Carson Pirie Scott property on the malls west side remains vacant after that retailed liquidated in 2019.
While more than half of the lower-level of the former Sears space has been leased to the entertainment venue Round One and Amita Health, about 25,500 square feet remains vacant. The entire 94,537-square-foot upper floor also remains vacant.