Wednesday, December 06, 2000

Loss of retailer may kill mall plan

Nordstrom decision a blow

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        DEERFIELD TWP. — Nordstrom's decision to postpone building a store in Warren County could kill a proposed mall on Mason-Montgomery Road.

        Deerfield Township Trustee Larry Backus said Tuesday that Nordstrom's announcement Monday that it was pulling out of the open-air mall has officials reconsidering the project. Mr. Backus said unless a Nordstrom-like store can be a replacement anchor, developers should not move forward.

        “Frankly, I can't think of more than one or two stores that might be acceptable,” Mr. Backus said. He suggested alternatives such as Bloomingdale's and Marshall Field's.

        Mr. Backus is one of three township trustees who will have final say on the project.

        Trustee Tom Raga said he

        was in agreement with Mr. Backus. Trustees President Bill Morand declined to comment until he had more information.

        “I think a unique nature is what we're looking for in any development that we would welcome to Deerfield Township, whether it is retail, office or residential,” Mr. Raga said. “And Nordstrom is definitely what made this mall unique.”

        Township officials said they don't want “an ill-conceived mall” like the Forest Fair Mall on the Forest Park-Fairfield border.

               Forest Fair suffered financial problems soon after it opened in 1989 and lost tenants and shoppers in the following years. Retail observers said the mall was doomed because of its size, location and mix of value retailers and high-end stores.

        Trustees said one of the things that made the mall proposed by Maryland developer Rouse Co. so attractive was the uniqueness of Nordstrom to Greater Cincinnati. The Seattle-based retailer's closest location is two hours away in Indianapolis.

        “We want something here that is going to be attractive and that adds something unique and different to our community, not anything that would detract from it,” Mr. Backus said.

        "Without a Nordstrom-caliber anchor, I don't think (a mall) is a necessary use or an advantageous use of that property.”

        Nordstrom was the only anchor signed up for the proposed mall, to be built on 80 acres along Mason-Montgomery Road. It was to have opened in fall 2003.

        “We were not really able to say it (the mall) was a go even with Nordstrom because we needed two committed stores,” said Warren Wilson, vice president and director of new business at Rouse. ""We'll evaluate what our options are and discuss them with the Duke-Weeks people, then make a decision.”

        The prospect of capturing a new anchor could be difficult for developers because of competition from nearby shopping centers and the development of new ones such as the open-air Village Crossing at West Chester, which has already signed high-end specialty retailer Jacobson's.

        Township zoning officials were set to address a possible rezoning of the proposed site 7 p.m. Monday. However, Township Zoning Administrator Tim Hershner said that may not take place.

        "I have heard that Duke-Weeks is going to withdraw their application for the rezoning, but of course we require that it be in writing,” Mr. Hershner said. "So until I get written confirmation, we will continue on with the process because that is the law in Ohio.”

        Mr. Hershner said even if Duke-Weeks Realty, which owns the land, does withdraw its application for rezoning, that doesn't mean the mall project is dead. “We are merely viewing this as a postponement, not a cancellation,” he said. “Nordstrom could still come back as a player in Deerfield Township once they revisit this.”

        Township officials said they expect to know more when Duke-Weeks and Rouse Co. officials meet this week.

        “There is only one thing we know for certain and that is that Duke—Weeks is not going to sit around with $8 million worth of property for too long,” Mr. Backus said.


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