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Published: Wednesday, 4/6/2005

More vacancy on tap as toll of stores rises

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Three more retailers are about to vacate and a potential tenant has been lost as the owners of Westgate Village Shopping Center apparently try to lure a major anchor and redevelop the 48-year-old Toledo center.

Details are unclear of any remake of the center. But more vacant space is coming soon to the already less-than-robust shopping strip that was a key retail center before Toledo had regional malls.

Thackeray's Books, which told The Blade in January it would close its doors in May, now plans to shut on Tuesday. Huntington Bank plans to exit Westgate on April 15 and reopen a quarter-mile north on Secor Road in the complex that formerly included a Food Town supermarket.

The Toledo Museum of Art yesterday notified Westgate that it will shutter its store there in mid-May, after less than a four-year run.

Officials of Abbell Credit Corp., the Chicago owners of Westgate, were not available for comment yesterday.

The loss of three retailers will vacate 25,200 square feet. The center already had a vacant Dillard's for the Home store and other empty spots. "I think the problem with Westgate is they know they have to offer short-term leases until they know what they are going to do with the center," said Dave Long, a commercial real estate agent with CB Richard Ellis/Reichle Klein in Maumee. He is representing a gourmet supermarket chain that is considering a site in Westgate.

Although Thackeray's said it would close because of intense competition and rising costs, and although Huntington said some weeks ago it will move, the center at West Central Avenue and Secor let an opportunity to land a new tenant slip away.

The Scrapbook Place, a five-year old dealer in scrapbook and hobby supplies at 3301 Secor, had been negotiating with Westgate to fill the bank's 6,000 square feet.

The retailer has a 1,500-square-foot sister store, Stamps + Etc. by the Scrapbook Place, in Westgate and planned to combine that business with the Scrapbook Place in the vacant bank site. The potential tenant talked about a five-year lease with Westgate, but two weeks ago the center nixed the longer lease and instead offered a one-year lease with a 90-day termination clause, said store co-owner Beth Jacobson.

The change killed the deal and the business now plans to move by June 7 to Sylvania in the Sylvania Marketplace shopping center off Monroe Street, she said. The stamp store will close in Westgate next month.

"They came back with this [new] lease and we just couldn't agree to it," Ms. Jacobson said. " We were very surprised by this."

Meanwhile, Carol Bintz, chief operating officer of the museum, said the decision to close its store was not easy, but the museum wanted to focus its resources on opening its new glass pavilion across Monroe Street from the museum in Old West End and on its newly remodeled gift shop inside the museum.

The future of the center is uncertain.

In a letter to tenants in February, Abbell said the status of Westgate would be uncertain as the owners prepared a redevelopment plan. That plan is to include adjacent property Abbell owns on the north side of Central and could include an anchor-like store, although not necessarily in the former Dillard's, which Abbell bought for $1.5 million in October.

The owners said the plan would be presented shortly to the city for approval, but two months later, city officials say nothing has been received.

Several Westgate tenants said yesterday they have heard nothing further about the redevelopment since November.

Whether the gourmet supermarket is the possible anchor is not known. Mr. Long, the CB Richard Ellis agent, declined to identify the gourmet chain considering Westgate. But it needs only about 20,000 square feet and would not be ready to start construction until 2006.

The real estate agent said he has heard rumblings that Bed Bath & Beyond and PetSmart are considering Westgate.

"I hear those a lot," he said. "Basically, you can look at all the national retailers that only have one store in the area and who don't have a presence near Westfield Shoppingtown Franklin Park and it would be a pretty safe bet that they have potential to be talking to Westgate."

In its early years, Westgate was anchored by the Lion store - which used Westgate as its first venture into what was at that time the Toledo suburbs - and two grocery stores, Kroger and National Foods. Other tenants included several shoe stores and women's apparel shops.

Contact Jon Chavez at:

jchavez@theblade.com

or 419-724-6128.



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