Mayor Jack Ford unveiled plans yesterday to transform Southwyck Shopping Center, its near-deserted parking lot filled mostly with weeds and political opportunity, into a miniature village replete with dozens of stores, office space, and 256 "midluxury" apartments.
"We've always wanted to see something that would happen that would revitalize Reynolds Road," Mr. Ford said. "I think this has the potential."
The announcement was made five days before Mr. Ford stands for re-election against Carty Finkbeiner, his predecessor at City Hall. Mr. Ford denied that political motivations prompted the news conference.
It occurred one hour before Mr. Finkbeiner, who claimed to be "tickled pink" about the "New Southwyck," discussed building a new sports arena.
"I am as excited as all get out," Mr. Finkbeiner said about Southwyck. "It's a winner."
Larry Dillin, the shopping mall's latest redeveloper, said his proposal transcended electoral politics, describing New Southwyck as a deal with the "appropriate" level of public backing.
"That's what we have to define in the coming weeks of discussion with the city," he said. "How do we define that term?"
Mr. Ford settled part of that question by pledging $2.5 million to renovate Southwyck Boulevard and Reynolds Road, the mall's primary arteries.
During his announcement, Mr. Ford mentioned using state grants and tax increment financing as other elements of a government incentive package.
Mr. Dillin, president of Dillin Development Corp., recently built Levis Commons in Perrysburg.
He said that one of the investors in that shopping center would foot about two-thirds of Southwyck's anticipated $150 million price tag, with the mall's anchor stores helping to pay the remainder.
The project would be completed in 2007, Mr. Dillin said.
Bill Carroll, the city's director of economic development, said that Sherman Dreiseszun, one of Southwyck's co-owners, agreed to the plan earlier this week with a handshake.
"He [Mr. Dreiseszun] had no incentive to get into a risky venture, unless he knew the participants had the cash and the know-how to get it done," Mr. Ford said.
A dinner with Mr. Dreiseszun and his diabetic wife in the "low-rollers' restaurant" at the Las Vegas Hilton helped cement the deal, Mr. Ford said. "She needed some orange juice," said Mr. Ford, adding that his own wife is diabetic. "I stopped at the restaurant and got her some orange juice. She was really appreciative of that."
The mayor explained that his personal relationship and Mr. Dillin's "visionary" proposal brought Southwyck's owner to their side, making the plan far more viable than previous efforts involving Sears Roebuck & Co. and Westfield Inc., which owns Franklin Park Mall. Conversations continue with the mall's other owner, Bill Dillard, whose department store would be one of new Southwyck's two anchors, Mr. Carroll said.
Retailers contacted to lease the four "medium box" spaces and 139,000 square feet of shopping include J.C. Penney, Office Max, and American Eagle, according to the site plan.
Despite the politicians' optimism, Dave Long, a commercial retail agent with CB Richard Ellis/Reichle Klein in Maumee, said harsh economics could align against a revitalized Southwyck. The multifamily housing market in town is soft and rising commercial construction costs would mean Southwyck will need to charge higher rents to retail tenants, he said.
Blade staff writer Tom Troy contributed to this report.
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