SOUTHWYCK Shopping Center went out with a whimper last week as its four remaining stores rang up their final sales and closed their doors for good. Vacant parking lots, shuttered shops, empty display windows, and deserted hallways stand as mute testimony to the lack of vision or inability by the owners of the South Toledo mall to invest in upgrades over the years to keep up with changing times and tastes.
But that does not have to be Southwyck's future.
At one time, the Toledo-area was home to four major malls - Southwyck, North Towne Square, Woodville Mall, and Franklin Park. Southwyck had 103 stores.
Now, North Towne and Southwyck are closed and Woodville is struggling. Only Franklin Park is thriving, and it is not coincidental that it's undergone major renovations several times, the most recent completed three years ago, and new ownership.
As Stan Eichelbaum, a shopping mall and development consultant and former Franklin Park mall official, said, "[F]or long-term sustainability, and we study this all over the world, always go with the mall that has the recapitalization and the strategic logic of who the anchors and the tenant body is, and they'll win."
But rather than crying about what could have or should have been, the mall's closing is an opportunity to ask what might be.
Southwyck sits alongside heavily traveled Reynolds Road and is just a short hop from the Ohio Turnpike and I-75. According to real estate specialist Duke Wheeler, of CB Richard Ellis/Reichle Klein, "the underlying real estate is still good real estate. Even if the enclosed mall concept doesn't work in that location anymore, that doesn't mean it's in a poor location."
Despite Southwyck's proximity to Perrysburg's Town Center at Levis Commons and The Shops at Fallen Timbers in Maumee, both of which are open-air, village-like developments, many experts believe a mall with the right mix of stores and designed with modern tastes in mind could thrive.
Southwyck's current divided ownership has shown little inclination to invest the time and money necessary to resurrect the shopping center. But if they don't want to redevelop the site, they should get out of the way.
That's where Larry Dillin comes in. The successful developer responsible for Levis Commons has proposed razing much of the current structure to build a "village" of shops, offices, and apartments along tree-lined boulevards.
That transition is long overdue and we hope that Mr. Dillin will be given a chance to turn his vision into reality so that in the not-too-distant future a new, more vibrant Southwyck will rise from the ashes, bringing with it not only scores of new shopping opportunities but, more importantly, hundreds of new jobs that area residents sorely need.