WESTFIELD AMERICA calls it a "new fashion and entertainment experience." Retailer Phil Kacja calls it "incredible." Local developer Dave Kienzle calls it "the black hole of retail in Toledo, Ohio."
"It" is the $117 million expansion of Westfield Shoppingtown Franklin Park, which opens to the public Friday.
It is likely to have tremendous effects on consumer shopping patterns, other area retail centers, and area retail development plans for years to come.
"I think it will elevate the mall to one of the top shopping places in the Midwest," said Jim Markowiak, owner of Gordon's Gifts in Franklin Park. "Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, it puts us up with those places, and people in Toledo will be able to shop here rather than have to go to those other places."
The overall project, primarily consisting of a new wing on the south side of the area's premier enclosed center, not only adds heft to the shopping destination but also combines the traditional mall aspects of department store anchors with the latest non-traditional trends of "big box" stores, such as Dick's Sporting Goods, and lifestyle stores, such as Williams-Sonoma and Pottery Barn.
"It's a powerful mix of retail," said Mr. Kacja, owner of J. Fosters Jewelers in the mall. "Toledo has never had this much shopping under one roof, let alone the diversity of it."
The project is the biggest retail development locally since October, when Town Center at Levis Commons opened in Perrysburg. That $55 million project was the metro area's first lifestyle center, or group of shops and restaurants with outdoor entrances designed to look like a downtown street scene.
But Mr. Kienzle, who developed the River Place shopping center in Perrysburg and has other properties, said the new 1.3 million-square-foot Franklin Park will have extraordinary dominance of the Toledo retail scene. The powerful allure of it, potentially sucking in retailers across the metro area, could pose problems for a variety of local shopping centers, he said.
"Big boxes used to want separate sites," he explained. "But now with stores like Dick's, the word is out: Franklin Park is competing with the big box centers, too."
Physically, the project launched 19 months ago expands the 34-year-old mall by nearly 25 percent.
It adds 240,000 square feet to the 1.05 million-square foot-center, housing 27 stores and restaurants, including 17 new to the Toledo area.
Among the new are Borders Books and Music and Build-A-Bear Workshop, Coach, and Charlotte Russe. Plus, other new stores will move into the original mall as some current retailers relocate within the overall mall.
The new wing also has 13 food court stalls and a 16-screen theater complex on a second floor. The overall project included two previously built parking garages.
Aesthetics are changing, too, for the mall that last went through a refurbishing and expansion in 1993.
The food court, which has been in the central hub of the mall, will move to the new wing and surround a large fireplace. Further, the decor and landscaping throughout Franklin Park will be changed to reflect its entertainment emphasis.
The expansion resulted in demolition of the former Jacobson's department store and the Franklin
Mall 6 theater, the addition of two multi-story parking decks with 500 more total parking spaces, and $1 million in widening and other upgrades to surrounding streets.
Several new stores and restaurants in the mall will have their own outside entrances, another deviation from the traditional mall concept that all stores but the main anchors have entrances only through an interior corridor.
Eight store sites and three food-court sites in the new wing had no announced tenants as of late last week.
But Todd Hiepler, mall general manager, said more retailers, including a restaurant, could have deals completed soon.
Westfield America, a unit of an Australian company, bought what was Franklin Park Mall in 2002, and soon afterward announced the expansion.
The mall has long been the biggest in the area, but its shopper attraction now will far exceed the only other local malls, Southwyck Shopping Center in South Toledo and Woodville Mall in Northwood.
Perhaps the larger questions about Franklin Park's expansion are how customers will respond and how nearby and area retailers will be affected.
"I don't think it will affect Wal-Mart or Target to any degree, but it could hurt Elder-Beerman," said Ray Martinek, who retired three weeks ago after 18 years as manager of the JC Penney store in Franklin Park.
The expansion and added stores likely will bring new customers from farther away, he said.
The project was badly needed after the loss of Jacobson's, which went bankrupt and closed in 2002. "Most of your major malls today have at least four or five anchors," he said, noting that Franklin Park had just three after Jacobson's closed.
Ken Hicks, Jr., a retail specialist and partner with Michael Realty Co. of Toledo, said retail sites near the mall have been tough and expensive to buy or lease, but the beefed-up mall will make that worse.
Rents at the mall approach $450 per square foot a year, which is very strong for retail, Mr. Hicks said. That likely will increase, he added.
Fred Moor, co-owner of Ken's Flowers, which has a store at the edge of the mall property at Talmadge Road and Sylvania Avenue, is ecstatic about the expansion.
"I think it will bring different clientele into that area and a lot of those benefit us," he said.
The project already has hurt some small, local retailers, such as the Pretzel Stop, a popular site in the food court. It closed a week ago, and owner Robert Schern said mall management told him a year ago to either affiliate with a national franchise or vacate.
"They wanted a franchise in there and, since I didn't want to get a franchise, we didn't have anything to talk about," said Mr. Schern, who also owns World Tea Co. in Sylvania.
As a result, local entrepreneurs obtained a franchise from Auntie Anne's pretzel chain and will be in the new food court.
Tommy Pipatjarasgit, president of Magic Wok and the Tropical Grill and Juices restaurants, is one local retailer who accepted Westfield's offer to stay and move to the new food court.
"We'll be paying a lot more rent. A lot more rent," he said. But it is justified, he said, because there is nothing like Franklin Park for 50 miles in any direction. He expects his sales to rise substantially.
Still, there could be larger casualties than the Pretzel Stop, Pop Culture, and G Thanks Gifts, three mall stores that closed recently.
Experts say other shopping spots likely to be harmed include the nearby Westgate Village Shopping Center and long-struggling Southwyck mall. "Somebody's going to get hurt, most likely people with weaker capacity and who don't the ability to keep up," said Mr. Kienzle, the local developer.
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