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MARION — The announcement that the long-beleaguered Illinois Star Centre Mall will finally be closing its doors came quietly Friday.

A letter was delivered to the few remaining shops in the mall that the owners would be locking the doors Dec. 16. Representatives from Shoe Sensation, Rose Nails and Hair Gypsies all confirmed receiving the letter.

Representatives from anchor stores Dillard's and Target both said that because their stores are independently owned, they will not be affected by the closure.

The mall has long been in financial hardship and has gone through significant upheaval in the last decade. The mall came under new ownership in 2011. These owners then tried to sell the mall — they almost did in 2016, but the deal fell through the next year.

Now, the owners have filed bankruptcy and are currently embroiled in a lawsuit against the city of Marion for what the owners allege to be misappropriation of bond funds paid by the mall to the city.

As previously reported in The Southern, three of the mall’s recent or current owners that are partners in Illinois Star Center LLC, served time in federal prison for participating in a “pay-to-play” tax sale scheme in Madison County. The group has owned the mall, excluding the anchor stores and parking lot, since 2011, when it was purchased in a tax sale in Williamson County.

Plans for the mall were drafted about 30 years ago. The city agreed to sell bonds for the development of the future site of the mall — cities often do this type of work for developers with various forms of incentives like tax increment financing.

Marion City Attorney Steve Green told The Southern in July that the cost of these bonds were passed on in the form of a tax on the mall property. Green said the money is collected by the county and put in a segregated city bank account used only to pay out the purchasers of the bonds.

Green said the mall owners take issue with the special service assessment tax at large, believing the agreement to be improper. That aside, he said they also believe that whatever bond debt the mall owed the city has since been paid and they, in fact, have overpaid — Green said the owners contend the city collected this over-payment and used it to pay for other things in the city.

The mall’s initial complaint against the city was tossed out by a judge in May, but an amended complaint was filed this summer. As a part of this suit the mall has refused to pay taxes to the city. This prompted the Marion City Council to vote in July to look into filing a lien against the mall.

Christa Ramsey is a stylist at Hair Gypsies and also works at the Bath & Body Works at the mall. She said she hadn’t heard the news until she went shopping at Bath & Body Works this weekend. She learned about the letter then.

“Me and another girl, we started crying because we’ve got kids,” she said. She’s not sure what to do as the holidays loom on the horizon.

“What am I going to do, I’ve got children,” Ramsey asked.

Marion Mayor Anthony Rinella said he was told about the closure Saturday while deer hunting.

“This is a heartless act,” Rinella said.

While he is sad to lose the sales tax money the mall provides, he said his frustration was not about money.

“I just hate it for those people,” he said of the mall employees and shop owners.

Closure has been speculated for years as the mall hemorrhaged businesses, forcing many out into other brick-and-mortar locations in Marion. The mall management has long rebuffed the rumors, which is what made the news so shocking to Ramsey.

“They were talking about how they were going to go forward, how they were going to go forward with fixing up the mall,” she said.

Rinella told the newspaper that he didn’t believe that the closure of the mall itself would affect the current litigation between the city and the mall ownership. However, he said the city hasn’t yet had communication with mall management.

“We don’t speak and we don’t exchange Christmas cards,” Rinella said of strained relations between the two entities.

As for Ramsey, she said she and her Hair Gypsies teammates will be carrying on until the Dec. 16 deadline to make sure their customers know where they are going to be going.

She rents a chair at her current salon and said she’s been in touch with other businesses in the area about potentially setting up shop, but nothing has been set in stone just yet.

Representatives from mall management could not be reached for comment.

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isaac.smith@thesouthern.com

618-351-5823

On Twitter: @ismithreports

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Isaac Smith is a reporter covering Jackson County.

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