The return of Coddingtown Mall to local ownership earlier this month fulfilled a long-held desire by the family of late developer Hugh Codding to regain control of Sonoma County’s largest mall and complete its transformation from a frumpy local shopping center to a more stylish lifestyle destination.
Codding Enterprises has been working for months toward repurchasing the 50 percent stake it sold in the mall in 2005 to Simon Property Group, the largest mall owner in the nation.
Terms of the deal, which closed Dec. 21, were not disclosed, but the purchase price was in the tens of millions of dollars, said Lois Codding, granddaughter of Hugh Codding, who built the mall in 1962. He died in 2010 at age 92.
The buyout was a mutual decision that made good business sense for both the Indianapolis-based Simon Properties, which faces a retail sector under siege, and the Santa Rosa-based property management company controlled by Codding’s heirs, Lois Codding said.
“We bought back Simon’s interest in Coddingtown because we love Coddingtown and we believe in Coddingtown,” she said.
The arrangement will dissolve a partnership that succeeded in attracting needed national tenants such as Whole Foods, Target, BJ’s Brewhouse, Chipotle Mexican Grill, and most recently, Nordstrom Rack to the mall.
But in other ways the partnership was a mismatch between a huge Indianapolis-based publicly traded mall owner focused on leasing to chain stores and a family-owned mall company with an interest in attracting a diverse mix of local businesses.
“Simon, they know what they are doing,” said Connie Codding, Hugh Codding’s fourth wife, a community leader and political activist who heads the Codding Foundation.“But they are very corporate. They have so many layers. It’s a whole different situation.”
Simon Properties owns the downtown Santa Rosa Plaza, which was built in 1983 following an urban redevelopment effort delayed for years by Hugh Codding’s legal challenges. Codding and his third wife, Nell, fought the city for 13 years, arguing it wasn’t fair for taxpayer money to be spent creating a direct competitor to their mall.
Officials from Simon could not be reached for comment this week. Nell Codding died in 1990.
The buyout of Simon is triggering a reorganization at Codding Enterprises, which until recently was headed by Brad Baker, Connie Codding’s son from a previous marriage.
Baker and his mother will control the commercial properties in Rohnert Park, most notably the 175-acre former Agilent site that is being redeveloped into a sustainable community called Sonoma Mountain Village. Lois Codding and Lisa Codding, Hugh’s granddaughters, will focus on the mall-related properties, Connie Codding said.
“I’m absolutely delighted,” Connie Codding said. “We’re in the process of dividing up the business. The granddaughters are getting the mall, and I think it’s a great opportunity for them.”
The granddaughters also will retain the commercial properties around the mall, including the Coddingtown Plaza Business Park west of the mall, a number of buildings along the southern edge of the mall property that could one day become housing, and the Merced Mall in the Central Valley, Lois Codding said.
Codding Construction, which performed most of the physical mall upgrades that brought in new tenants in recent years, will remain under the granddaughters’ control.
The transition allows different family members to focus on their interests, Connie Codding said.
“I’m just delighted that there’s been no dissension within the family over this,” she said.
The money from the 2005 sale of the partnership stake to Simon allowed the family to purchase the Rohnert Park Agilent property, which has long been a keen interest of Baker, she said. She and Baker will also control other commercial properties in Rohnert Park, including the indoor racetrack, Driven Raceway.
Montgomery Village, the upscale Santa Rosa shopping center separately owned by Hugh Codding’s son, David, was not involved in the transaction.
The family took out a loan to buy out Simon, something they were in a position to be able to do because of strong local real estate values and Hugh Codding’s focus on paying down debt, Connie Codding said.
The plan now is to complete the last phase of the upgrades to the north side of the mall, where an Ulta Beauty cosmetics store is slated for 2018, and attract a number of new tenants to the mall’s interior, Lois Codding said.
Foot traffic in the mall’s interior has been a problem for years, said Albert Mouttapa, who has run International Imports in the mall since 1974, making him one of the oldest tenants. The store, which has moved five times in 12 years to make way for mall remodeling, sells a variety of novelties, including flags, incense, tie-dyed shirts and glass figurines.
The high-traffic stores like Whole Foods and Target haven’t translated into much greater foot traffic for him because customers tend to shop at those stores and leave instead of checking out the other stores, he said.
“I’ve very glad the Coddings are back,” said Mouttapa, who has a framed portrait of he and Hugh Codding hanging near his register. “Now I can breathe easy.”
The return to local ownership will allow the Coddings to lease space to new tenants without having to get multiple levels of approval from an out-of-state partner, said mall manager Jimmy Scales.
“It should be a lot smoother and quicker process,” Scales said.
Separate buildings on the mall property are getting a Crunch Fitness and Habit Burger in 2018. Also working in the mall’s favor are the hundreds of new, high-end apartments constructed in recent years just one block south of the mall that have helped drive traffic, Scales said.
The possibility of more new housing nearby and the arrival of the SMART train station on Guerneville Road all bode well for the center’s future, he said.
There’s also an intangible benefit to having a local family back in control instead of a corporation whose focus on chain stores tended to make their malls feel very similar to one another
“It kind of nice to have that local, family-owned feel back,” Scales said. “Now we can kind of give Coddingtown its own personality again.”
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 707-521-5207 or email@example.com. On Twitter @srcitybeat.