By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer
After two-plus years of promises by a half dozen wealthy land developers, the battle to be the first to bring upscale shopping and entertainment to northern Cincinnati's affluent suburbs appears settled.
Open-air malls in West Chester and Deerfield Township promise a distinct mix of shops, restaurants and entertainment attractions intended to lure clusters of well-off shoppers living in Cincinnati's northern suburbs.
West Chester Township Trustee Catherine Stoker is confident that the two projects will introduce shopping options now lacking in the fast-growing communities of southern Butler and Warren counties.
HOW THEY COMPARE
Tenants that are signed at Deerfield Towne Center:|
Dick's Sporting Goods
Borders Books and Music
Bed Bath & Beyond
Lerner New York
Wild Oats Market
Buca di Beppo
Claddagh Irish Pub
Nick & Tony's Chophouse
Ann Taylor Loft
Camille La Vie
Salon LA Spa
Celebrity Kids Studios
Aveda Pure Concepts Salon
Venetian Lifestyle Salon
Tenants that are signed at Streets of West Chester:
Rave Motion Pictures
Barnes & Noble
Mitchell's Fish Market
Source: Jeffrey R. Anderson Real Estate, Continental Retail Development
"Ideally, you want the different shopping destinations to layer, to complement each other instead of compete," said Stoker, who added that too often intense retail competition leaves behind empty stores at less popular sites.
But the past two years have been a dogfight among real estate firms promoting sites from West Chester to Mason. What have emerged are two open-air shopping centers with distinct tenant mixes:
The $100 million Streets of West Chester now under construction at the southeast corner of Union Centre Boulevard and Interstate 75 will open this summer with a developer-owned, 18-screen Rave Motion Pictures movie theater. Other offerings announced so far include Barnes & Noble, an ice rink and three restaurants. While the developer plans more retail shops, no leases are signed.
Construction soon will start on $75 million Deerfield Towne Center at Mason-Montgomery and Irwin Simpson roads for an August 2004 opening. A week ago, developers unveiled a list of two dozen fashion and specialty foods shops such as Talbot's, Camille La Vie and Wild Oats Market, many which can be found at Norwood's Rookwood Commons.
Plans to bring an outdoor mall at four competing sites are dashed or delayed. The former Voice of America site in West Chester, once touted as the next outdoor mall site, is being developed as a community shopping center anchored by Target.
And Columbus-based Glimcher Realty Trust pushed back its plan beyond 2004 for a mega-enclosed mall in Mason off Kings Mill Road. Not a single enclosed mall has been built in the Tristate since Forest Fair Mall opened in 1989.
Retailers are eager to join so-called "lifestyle centers" because they represent the cutting edge in modern retail.
"It's the hot design trend in the retail industry today," said Patrice Duker, spokeswoman for the International Council of Shopping Centers. "It's something different than that traditional mall, and it's where the retailer wants to be. They want to be near affluent markets."
Like many residents of northern Cincinnati's suburbs, Angela Engen looks forward to shopping options close to home. Yet the Deerfield Township resident worries about the thousands of additional cars that will inevitably clog already-congested Mason-Montgomery/Fields Ertel Road exit off Interstate 71.
"I know traffic-wise it's going to be horrible," said Engen, 33. "People already avoid the area because of Fields Ertel Road. I really wonder how they are going to get people in and out of there."
Officials in Deerfield Township and West Chester hope to allay traffic worries with road and utility improvements.
Both communities approved special agreements to divert property tax dollars generated by each development to pay infrastructure costs. West Chester's tax increment financing agreement is valued at $3.3 million; Deerfield Township endorsed a similar pact worth $3.5 million for road improvements, including the realignment of Irwin-Simpson Road.
Stoker said it's important that the township assist developers because new projects ultimately will generate tax dollars benefiting the community.
"We are in partnership with builders and developers," Stoker said.
David Kass, president of Continental, said West Chester's cooperation was important for his project. He's already invested $25 million in the site, which will eventually include condos or apartments and office space, too.
Similar to Newport
In many ways, the Continental development is similar to Newport on the Levee in Northern Kentucky. Both have a heavy emphasis on entertainment and dining.
Jeremy Divine, who heads Dallas-based Rave Motion Pictures, expects his West Chester theater will prove a hit with its modern touches such as spacious seating and wall-to-wall screens.
"We saw this as a window of opportunity," Divine said.
Mitchell's Fish Market, now open at the Levee, plans its second Greater Cincinnati operation at the West Chester center. Other restaurants include the Chinese bistro PF Chang and a sports-themed eatery, Champs Americana, which will open June.
Although there is little shopping yet unveiled, Kass promises that "we'll be announcing more fashion tenants soon."
By contrast, the Deerfield Township center development so far has a heavier emphasis on retail. Columbus-based Casto and two firms with extensive experience developing lifestyle centers, Jeffrey R. Anderson Real Estate and Atlanta-based Cousins Properties, are developing it.
Mark Fallon, director of leasing for Anderson, said the Deerfield Township center is purposely light on entertainment offerings. The idea is to build a convenient, appealing place targeting female shoppers aged 25 to 55.
"We are a very boring place to go, and that's clearly by design," Fallon said. "We don't want to be a place for kids to hang out. We want their moms to hang out here."
Fallon anticipates reaching some of the region's wealthiest communities within three to seven miles of the Deerfield project. Its trade area is small enough that it shouldn't cannibalize Anderson's similar Rookwood Commons development in Norwood, Fallon said.
Continental's mix of entertainment offerings should draw from a larger area, Kass said.
"We will end up with a large, regional entertainment and fashion center along I-75," Kass said. "It will be a family-oriented, destination place."
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