Could a proposed casino revive the York Galleria Mall?

Rebecca Klar
York Dispatch
The York Galleria Mall, Tuesday, February 5, 2019. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

Window shopping at the York Galleria mall may be uneventful — unless a customer is looking to lease a store.

Earlier this month, at least 17 storefronts sat shuttered by metal gates stamped with matching "lease here" signs. That's not including a young women's clothing store that is set to close or the former Bon-Ton, which is separately owned from the rest of the Galleria.

A proposed mini-casino — operated by Penn National — slated for the lower level of the former Sears could revive the Springettsbury Township mall, which has lost about $30 million in assessed value over 20 years, according to York County records. 

"I think this brought new attention to the mall, and I think that's certainly benefited the mall, and it's only going to continue," said York County Economic Alliance CEO and President Kevin Schreiber.

As with malls across the nation, the Galleria is looking to redefine its role in the "age of Amazon," Schreiber said.

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"The addition of Penn National will certainly draw new interest and may be attractive to the properties that may have looked at Galleria as a possible location. It's all a net gain in terms of economic activity," he said.

Penn National Gaming estimated Springettsbury Township could reap up to $1 million annually once the proposed casino is fully operational.

Thursday, August 23, 2018--An area that formerly housed the Sears store in the York Galleria Mall is a possible site for a Penn National betting facility. Bill Kalina photo

The proposal is subject to a final hearing before the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board in Harrisburg, said spokesman Doug Harbach. Penn National will present, but it will not be a public hearing like the one held in Springettsburty Township last year.

The hearing date has not yet been announced.

Available space: True Commercial Real Estate is representing four open York Galleria perimeter stores, including the former Bon-Ton, two spaces surrounding Marshall's and the upper level of the former Sears, which closed in August 2018.

The Galleria is owned and operated by CBL & Associates Property Inc., based out of Chattanooga Tennessee. More than 90 stores fill the 764,710 square feet of gross leasable area, according to the CBL website.

CBL bought the Galleria for $69 million in 1999; it's currently assessed for $39 million, according to York County records.

Charlotte Russe will be added to the growing list of closed stores. It is one of 94 locations the brand plans to close after announcing it filed for bankruptcy on Monday, Feb. 4. 

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The Penn National proposal is already drawing interest from prospective businesses,  according to Catharine Wells, CBL director of marketing. She declined to disclose specifics at this time. 

CBL is considering a wide range of incoming businesses, in addition to retail. Wells noted the Galleria's addition of Gold's Gym in July 2017. 

The York Galleria Mall has lost two of its longstanding anchors: The Bon Ton and Sears. (Dawn J. Sagert/photo)

"We're even looking at office space, all kinds of different uses to kind of dramatically change the dynamic of the property," she said. 

Modern mall: As the Galleria carves out its future as a mixed-use hub, it's more in line with what malls were designed to be nearly seven decades ago, according to True Commercial Real Estate managing partner Blaze Cambruzzi.

"The idea that a mall is supposed to be packed with department stores on the anchors and shops in the middle, I don't think that was the original intent of the mall, and I don't think that's where the malls of America are going to land," said Cambruzzi, who also is a real estate adjunct professor at Millersville University.

Malls were created to house more than retail. Victor Gruen, creator of the modern mall, intended for them to be mixed-use buildings with office and living space, Cambruzzi said.

"Kind of like cities," he added.

Not all malls will be able to adapt, but the Galleria is in a good position to successfully shift, he said.

"I think the Galleria is a good example of a well-located (mall), in a good market, a strong market opportunity, where you have the opportunity to bring more of an aggregation of mixed uses of all sorts to create an interesting enclosed environment," he said. "And I think the casino lends to that very well."

Economic win: Springettsbury Township Vice Chairman George Dvoryak said Penn National's investment is an economic win for the township.  

"What they're going to spend to redevelop that Sears site there at the mall, I think it's reasonable to think there's (going) to be a ripple effect not only throughout the mall, but surrounding hotels and so forth," he said. 

Although some residents have voiced opposition to the casino, Dvoryak said many see it as a boon. 

"Particularly people who welcome the fact that you have a dying mall there that’s basically mostly vacant, and this is an opportunity for some redevelopment at this site," he said. 

The mall also serves as a place for residents to socialize, said Terry Borigo, a Hellam Township resident who regularly visits the York Galleria.

As support personnel for a person with mental disabilities, Borigo goes to the Galleria twice a week as an outing for her client.

The York Galleria Mall, Tuesday, February 5, 2019. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

Despite an increasing online shopping trend, Borigo said disabled people, the elderly and middle aged gather at the Galleria. 

In the course of a year, she's seen store after store close up. 

"Maintenance-wise they do a  good job, but stores are disappearing," she said, adding that she noticed two more unexpectedly shut down recently.

Borigo said she's hopeful the casino will bring in new business.

In addition to Penn National's proposed mini-casino, Cambruzzi sees potential for a range of businesses to open up in mall spaces. Malls could hold medical facilities and university satellite campuses, he said.

"Most people don't think of a mall in what its true economic potential is," he said.

— Rebecca Klar can be reached at or via Twitter @RebeccaKlar_