Thursday, January 23, 2003

Forest Park offers aid to businesses forced to relocate

Officials' goal to keep firms in city

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FOREST PARK - With council's unanimous approval, city officials Wednesday moved forward with their goal of keeping as many Forest Fair Mall small businesses in the city as possible.

Major renovations at the mall by new owners Mills Corp. of Arlington, Va., could temporarily force out some small businesses. Renovations could begin next month.

The city is offering - for the first time - to waive a portion of any building and planning/zoning permit fees associated with relocating, and fast track the paperwork.

A resolution was passed 4-0 by council Tuesday night, with three members absent.

"These small businesses are the heart of the economy," Forest Park City Manager Ray Hodges said Wednesday. "We want to eliminate the red tape, expedite inspections. It's a delicate situation because we support the mall and the small businesses."

Up to 30 businesses could benefit, but Mr. Hodges said it's likely that fewer than a dozen will take the city's offer. Some will relocate to other sites in the mall, where renovations will be incremental.

The city also is offering to:

Coordinate meetings between the businesses and inspectors and mall management, and has typed permit-requests to spare business owners that sometimes lengthy process.

Help identify the best possible relocation sites. A market analysis packet was delivered to each business, identifying available spots and their demographics.

There is retail space available at numerous sites, including Civic Center Station on Hamilton Avenue, Northpointe Center and Forest Park Plaza on Northland Boulevard, and the Cobblewood Plaza at Winton Road and Interstate 275.

The concern for Forest Park is a simple one: If the businesses relocate outside the city, will they return when mall renovations are completed?

Typically, such a relocation would cost a business about $200 to $300 on the low-end, and up to several thousand dollars , according to Forest Park Economic Development Director Paul Brehm.

The costs vary so much because some business inspections would require a new sprinkler system to meet fire code, or additional construction.

No businesses have signed up, but several have expressed interest, officials said.


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