Thursday, May 16, 2002

Monroe mall plan cut from mega to just big

Developers cut back mall plans

By Michael D. Clark,
and Jennifer Edwards,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MONROE — Developers have scaled back a controversial “megamall” project to put a Monroe site back into the race to build shopping meccas in the booming Interstate 75 corridor through Butler and Warren counties.

        But Wednesday, there was no scaling back of criticism from some opponents, who maintain that even the smaller, $150 million mall now proposed will inflict sprawl and traffic gridlock.

   The four proposed open-air malls in West Chester Township:
   • The Avenue of West Chester: Cousins Properties Inc. of Atlanta envisions 215,000 square feet of upscale retail, owned by Schumacher Dugan Construction Inc., on 26 acres at the northwest corner of Union Centre Boulevard and Muhlhauser Road.
   • The Streets of West Chester: Columbus-based Continental Retail Development envisions a $100 million multiuse development by next spring at the southeast corner of Interstate 75 and Union Centre Boulevard. The development also would include a hotel, luxury apartments and condos, and retail and office space. Construction on the residential part of the project is expected to begin this summer.
   • Voice of America Centre: Midland Atlantic Properties of Kenwood is building a 500,000-
   square-foot open-air discount mall with anchors Target and Bigg's at the northeast corner of Tylersville and Cox roads. Groundbreaking is expected this summer.
   • West Chester Market Square: Steiner & Associates of Columbus is teaming with Evendale-based Neyer Properties on the 1 million-
   square-foot project on 75 acres at the northwest corner of I-75 and Cincinnati-Dayton Road.
        Meanwhile, just a few miles south, the Monroe news was met with skepticism in West Chester Township, where plans have already been announced for four malls.

        “Yet another entry into the mall war,” West Chester Administrator Dave Gully said. “We'll believe it when we see it.”

        Developers announced that Dillard's department store has signed a letter of intent to be an anchor for the new Monroe mall in Warren County.

        Mark Bulmash, group vice president of development for the Taubman Co. of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., said Dillard's was the first committed retailer for the planned 1.1 million-square-foot enclosed mall, to be built on 275 acres just east of the Interstate 75/Ohio 63 interchange. The bilevel mall, scheduled to open in fall 2006, could feature up to five large department stores and 150 specialty retailers, Mr. Bulmash said.

        “We believe this location will become a great regional shopping destination, drawing customers from the rapidly growing suburbs of northern Cincinnati as well as southern Dayton,” he said.

        The site could also include up to six major restaurants and a cinema, he said.

        Overall, the developer estimates the mall will create 1,750 permanent jobs — 2,200 during construction — making it by far Monroe's largest employer.

        In 2000, Taubman abandoned plans for a larger mall — $200 million with more than 1.4 million square feet — after state transportation officials rejected their request for a new I-75 interchange at Kyles Station Road. The developer also withdrew a plan from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to alter the course of Millers Creek on the property, something they will now avoid.

        But Glen Brand, the Midwest regional representative for the Sierra Club based in Cincinnati, said a smaller mall doesn't mean fewer problems.

        “The reasons the megasprawl mall was a terrible idea two years ago are truer today. The mall would be the catalyst for major, unplanned sprawling over-development ... and causing catastrophic traffic congestion,” said Mr. Brand. “We will fight it vigorously.”

        Monroe resident Linda Trumpore worries about traffic and the loss of green space.

        “I'd hate to see that all torn apart just to duplicate three or four other malls in the area. We have enough malls,” Ms. Trumpore said.

        But fellow resident Louise LaMasters thinks the planned expansions of the I-75/Ohio 63 interchange — expected to be done by 2006 — and the widening of Ohio 63 east will accommodate the traffic.

        “We need this in Monroe because we need people to spend their money here and not out of the city,” Ms. LaMasters said.

        Added Monroe Mayor Mike Morris: “This is the largest development in the history of Monroe, but remember it will be within our designated commercial district. We are taking our time and we are going to do this right.”

        Larry Crisenbery, vice president of the Warren County Commissioners, said he was surprised the mall project was still viable, adding, “I thought it was dead. ... At least it is scaled down and I think it will work. I'd rather see that sort of mall go in than smokestack industries.”

        Some business leaders said they didn't see the Monroe mall as being competition for West Chester's open-air mall projects because the concepts are different.

        “The type of shops you are looking for at an outdoor shopping mall are not the same at an indoor mall,” said Joe Hinson, president and chief executive officer of the Southeastern Butler County Chamber of Commerce. “These outdoor shopping malls are not the big, boxed anchors. You will have a collection of specialty type stores and upscale restaurants.”

        West Chester officials predicted that a mall closer to Monroe would be hurt more.

        “I think it would kill Middletown's mall,” Trustee Dave Tacosik said.

        Middletown business leaders were surprised to learn that Dillard's is ready to anchor the Monroe mall. Currently Dillard's is an anchor store at Middletown Towne Mall.

        “It would be tough to imagine that Dillard's would also stay at the Towne Mall,” said David Daugherty, president of the Mid-Miami Valley Chamber of Commerce, which represents businesses in Middletown.

        “It will be a challenge for sure but there is plenty of time to make the adjustment,” Mr. Daugherty said.

        Dillard's officials did not respond to a request for comment about the future of the Middletown store, but in a statement William Dillard II, chief executive officer of Dillard's Inc., said: “We are excited about the opportunity to better serve our customers in northern Cincinnati and southern Dayton.

        “Monroe is strategically located and will help Dillard's remain the fashion and service leader in the state,” said Mr. Dillard of the 204,000-square-foot store planned for the Monroe mall.

        Scott Saddlemire, senior retail consultant for Brant Retail Group in Cincinnati, wondered whether there are enough customers along the I-75 corridor to support Monroe's mall.

        “As all that land between Dayton and Cincinnati fills up at some point I think there will be market support for a massive mall some day ... maybe by 2006,” Mr. Saddlemire said.

        Meanwhile, some residents complain all the malls are just too much in a congested area and want development to slow down.

        “We are losing valuable green space,” said Susan Hendel, who also is a real estate agent. “The community can't support all these malls. It's overkill. Everyone is saying they will get quality stores to go into their malls, but how many quality stores are around to go into them?”

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