CenterMark’s "Big Box" Makeover Highlighted as Success, Trend

Transformation of Collinwood big-box store highlights a trend
Published: Saturday, November 12, 2011
By Michelle Jarboe McFee, The Plain Dealer

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Where shoppers once rummaged for bargains, children will slip down a water slide or skid across the bamboo floor of a basketball court.

This retail box turned recreation center promises more bustle for Cleveland’s Collinwood neighborhood. And the redevelopment illustrates one creative approach to a widespread problem: Empty stores and outmoded shopping centers plaguing landlords and cities.

The former Big Lots store in Collinwood, at 16300 Lake Shore Blvd., sat vacant for years. Retailers passed it by because of its size: 66,000 square feet; its age: decades-old; and its proximity to Lake Erie.

The city bought the property in 2006, and politicians squabbled over transforming the site, surrounded by parks, from an eyesore into a community asset.

On Saturday, the building finally reopened as the Collinwood Recreation Center, the city’s first new recreation center in more than a decade.

After a recession and a flurry of retail bankruptcies, property owners and public officials are struggling to fill empty stores.

Major retailers are hungry for space, but they’re focused on the best shopping centers, in busy locations. With few developers tackling new construction, savvy landlords have found ways to remake prime properties. They’re knocking down existing stores, combining spaces or building on parking lots.

Meanwhile, less desirable properties face stagnation, demolition — or reconstruction as something other than retail. “I think there are 100,000 shopping centers in the U.S., and you can bet that a lot of those are problematic,” said Rich Moore, an analyst who covers real estate companies for RBC Capital Markets in Solon. “Out of those 100,000, there’s a big number that will ultimately be something different.”

In Northeast Ohio, call centers, car dealerships, technical schools and churches have filled empty big-box stores. Real estate brokers and analysts expect to see more alternative uses of defunct retail space, as the industry weeds out obsolete properties.

Retail vacancy in Greater Cleveland is hovering near 12.6 percent, according toMarcus & Millichap Research Services. At neighborhood and community shopping centers in the region, vacancy inched up to 15.3 percent during the third quarter — the highest level in years, based on data compiled by Reis Inc., a research company.
Hamulak points out that some long-vacant retail sites do find new tenants.

In Cleveland, CenterMark Development LLC recently launched a $1.25 million makeover of a former Tops Markets store in the Glenville-Forest Hills area. The building, empty since 2006, will become a Save-A-Lot grocery store and a discount clothing retailer.

Collinwood couldn’t lure retail back to Lake Shore Boulevard. But Councilman Michael Polensek relentlessly pushed for the recreation center. And City Hall backed it, using bond financing earmarked for capital projects.


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