New owners plan upgrades to West Side retail centers

on Tuesday, 12 May 2015.

The city's efforts to revitalize the West Side have attracted new owners for two retail properties -- the Great Western Commerce Center and the Great Western Shopping Center, both in the West Broad Street and Wilson Road area.

RD Management of New York purchased the commerce center for $7.1 million in 2013 and is the midst of a $2 million renovation project aimed at attracting a more diverse mix of tenants.

America's Realty, a Maryland-based company that specializes in turning around distressed malls, recently partnered with ARCJ Capital to buy the struggling shopping center for $4 million from Spigel Properties.

America's Realty CEO Carl Verstandig is clear about his company's mission: Find enough tenants to move the shopping center's occupancy rate from its current 72 percent to 90 percent in six to eight months. And he's not going for glitz and glamour.

"We don't have any real upscale shopping centers. We're middle-of-the-road," Verstandig said. "You're not going to find any Nordstroms in our centers.

"What we do is clean them up and undercut the rent and fill them up."

The owner of the nearby Great Western Commerce Center -- which was part of the Great Western Shopping Center when it opened in 1955 -- believes the purchase by America's Realty is a good sign for the West Side.

"People see the potential here and when that happens, you see properties trading hands," said Richard Birdoff, a principal at RD Management.

"They are looking for assets they can reposition, and that shopping center is in a location where it's capable of doing better than it's doing."

He believes the area around the Great Western is in the early stages of a turnaround and said RD Management is looking at other properties in the area to purchase and turn into similar mixed-use centers.

"Any time you have urban areas that have gone through some abandonment and neglect, you need some pioneers and some governmental input for a rebirth," he said. "I'm impressed with what Columbus has done Downtown and the river projects and the plans for Franklinton -- and (efforts) to extend that to the west."

Birdoff's plans to rebrand and upgrade the Great Western Commerce Center put it at the forefront of the mixed-use trend, according to Chris Boring, a principal of Boulevard Strategies, a local retail-consulting firm.

"I think they're ahead of the curve, and this mixed-use idea will be a huge trend in the next 20 years because there are so many dying malls," Boring said.

The strategy for the commerce center fits in with the area's master plan, said Chris Haydocy, president of Weston Vision, the West Side's economic-development organization.

"They're following the blueprint," he said. "Retail is gone here and instead of putting a square peg in a round hole, which has been tried unsuccessfully, they're putting a round peg in a round hole."

The popularity of online shopping has created "more retail space than we'll ever need in central Ohio," Boring said, adding that this will increase the need to find nonretail types of tenants for all the empty spaces.

The Great Western Commerce Center has one 50,000-square-foot vacancy and several smaller ones that range in size from 960 square feet to 2,700 square feet.

"We're talking to possible tenants for the 50,000-square-foot site," Birdoff said. "One is in the entertainment area, and the other is in education."