I was looking for the minutes of the Mason City government long-range planning meeting that took place on Jan. 9. I have particular interest in one multi-year holdover item and so should you.

It seems that for a significant number of years, local government and citizens have voiced concerns over the nearly empty 250,000 square feet that welcomes visitors to Mason City coming into town from the south, Southport Mall.

Without question, Southport is one huge blemish. Indisputably, this is not the first impression that our community needs or wants. I do understand that Southport is in the official urban renewal area. I can go back years and see that every cycle, the previous year urban renewal matrix is tweaked and on we go with Southport as a monument to inaction.

Given wind chill warnings, I had time to read the entire 275-page council packet for the Jan. 16 City Council meeting. Buried inside that mega-packet, there it was. Southport remains a carryover priority for the umpteenth year.

After the revelations relating to Kohan Investment Group, it is clear that we need to get to know the owners of Southport as well since between the two, they own 500,000 square feet of mostly empty building space inside the urban renewal area.

I wish I could tell you that the owners of Southport are a horse of a different color, but alas, they too are the south end of a northbound horse.

There seems to be a multitude of mall real estate holding companies around the world, currently taking advantage of desperate communities who really do not know what to do with obsolete shopping mall space as it deteriorates beyond utility. Moreover, there is a second party being fleeced as well.

The minority limited liability investors who pour their money into the mall holding companies, believing promises of full capacities and money making outside the box repurposing ventures, until their money runs dry and they walk away with only suspect tax benefits and a lighter wallet.

Then miraculously, the owners re-form the same deal under a different name, don their carnival hawkers outfits and without difficulty, finding a whole new group of limited liability investors perfectly willing to own 49 percent of nothing while dreaming of the sugar plums of wealth and tax breaks.

I have a fear to share.

I will bet my next month's retirement that if you posed the question, "What are the names of the real human owners of Southport Mall?" If requiring an immediate answer, not one member of the chamber staff, the promote Mason City mechanism, the mayor, any of our councilmen, the corridor development employees nor even the assessors or recorders could provide a correct response.

Why? Because the answer hides behind seven layers of nominees, fictitious name filings and multi-state corporation servicing companies that do nothing but file documents required from each state with liability shielding entity activity.

Moreover, just to be safe from scrutiny and the long arm of liability responsibilities, there exists three more layers of corporate entities formed in three separate states. With that onion finally peeled, one can look and see the people culpable.

The irony is that Southport is ripe for this. Just as with Kohan, when you can finally get to the source and view their portfolio on their holding company website, the pictures show Southport as another bustling Garden of Eden. The Sears store is packed and intact. Joann Fabrics, Sears Outlet and several other tenants have nice shiny signs and cars fighting for parking space. Even the collapsed Arlen/Target building is represented as a functional thriving property.

Every time Southport is re-formed into another LLC, the human owners pocket $3.5 million dollars from the powerless 49 percent as buildings collapse around us.

We must know our opponents. You are playing chess with the man behind the curtain and unknown to you, your opponent is IBM's Watson computer.

J.W. Sayles is a retired university professor and U.S. Treasury agent and also a veteran of the Vietnam War. He lives in Mason City.


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