By Brecken Branstrator
brecken.branstrator@nationaljeweler.com
The West Towne Mall in Madison, Wisconsin is one of the 100-plus shopping centers owned by CBL Properties. The mall operator filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Sunday. (Photo courtesy of CBL Properties)
New York—Mall operators CBL Properties and the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust both filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Sunday, another sign of the toll COVID-19 is taking on already struggling sectors of physical retail.

Chattanooga, Tennessee-headquartered CBL operates 107 malls and outlet centers in 26 states, primarily in the Midwest and Southeast.

Jewelry giant Signet Jewelers Ltd. is the company’s second-largest retailer, with 138 stores accounting for 3 percent of its total revenues, according to court papers included in the bankruptcy filing. (Its largest tenant is L Brands Inc., owner of Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works.)

CBL’s shopping centers have been grappling with myriad issues in recent years, with decreasing foot traffic to Class B and C malls pushing tenants to shed stores.

COVID-19 accelerated the decline, as it forced stores to close for an extended period and has made consumers hesitant to resume shopping in large, enclosed spaces.

Many retailers are unable to pay the rent, even if they wish to remain open, while others—like Signet—are further rethinking their physical footprint.

Still other CBL tenants, including J.C. Penney and Ann Taylor owner Ascena Retail Group, have also filed for bankruptcy.

CBL said in court papers that in 2020 alone, more than 30 of its retail tenants commenced their own Chapter 11 cases.


The mall operator entered into a restructuring support agreement with lenders back in August, with an eye on reducing debt and other obligations by $1.5 billion and increasing liquidity while keeping its shopping centers open.

It warned then a bankruptcy filing may be imminent.

In a statement released Monday, CEO Stephen D. Lebovitz said after months of discussion, the company came to the decision that a Chapter 11 filing was the best option.

“CBL’s management and the board of directors firmly believe that implementing the comprehensive restructuring as outlined in the RSA through a Chapter 11 voluntary bankruptcy filing will provide CBL with the best plan to emerge as a stronger and more stable company,” he said.

“Upon emergence, CBL will be in a better position to execute on our strategies and move forward as a stable and profitable business.”

CBL & Associates Properties Inc., along with CBL & Associates Limited Partnership and other related entities, filed Chapter 11 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Houston.

The company said its customers, tenants and partners can expect “business as usual” throughout the Chapter 11 proceedings. It has filed motions that will allow it to continue to pay employee wages and benefits, honor certain customer and vendor commitments, and otherwise manage day-to-day operations.

The smaller Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, or PREIT, has 19 malls in eight states, according to its website.

Like CBL Properties, PREIT has already entered into a restructuring agreement with lenders and plans to keep its malls open and continue paying all employees, vendors and suppliers throughout the Chapter 11 process.

The mall operator said in a statement issued Sunday the banks have committed to providing an additional $150 million to recapitalize the business and extend loan repayment reschedules. It also said its restructuring plan has backing from 95 percent of its creditors.

“We are pleased to be moving forward with strengthening the company’s balance sheet and positioning it for long-term success through our prepackaged plan,” CEO Joseph F. Coradino said.

“Today’s announcement has no impact on our operations … and we remain committed to continuing to deliver top-tier experiences and improving our portfolio. With the overwhelming support of our lenders, we look forward to quickly emerging from this process as a financially stronger company with the resources and support to continue creating diverse, multi-use ecosystems throughout our portfolio.”


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