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Published: Sunday, 5/29/2005

Shops at Fallen Timbers, promised for eight years, barely on the radar

A new General Growth Properties brochure depicts the complex as an outdoor cluster of retailers and a cinema. A new General Growth Properties brochure depicts the complex as an outdoor cluster of retailers and a cinema.

If there is such a thing as a stealth shopping complex, General Growth Properties Inc.'s Shops at Fallen Timbers might be it.

Twelve months ago in Las Vegas, visitors to the company's booth at the International Council of Shopping Centers convention were dazzled by the proposed retail project in Maumee, which the nation's No. 2 mall developer prominently featured in its booth.

This year at the convention, the project information was relegated to an obscure display.

That and the attention that retailers at the gathering lavished on the Perrysburg market raised questions among convention-goers of whether General Growth has cooled on the 1 million-square-foot shopping center it has been itching to build for eight years.

A company spokesman said commitment to Fallen Timbers is as solid as ever, and its planned autumn, 2006, opening is unchanged.

"Nothing has changed on the opening date they've given me," said spokesman Julie Jacoby.

But Pete Shawaker, a partner at Michael Realty Co., a Toledo commercial real estate firm, said the developer apparently doesn't have enough stores signed up to go into the project.

"If they had that critical mass together they'd already be telling everyone about it," he said.

The only indication of progress at the Maumee site is a grass-covered mound, behind a sign promoting a 2005 opening. The only indication of progress at the Maumee site is a grass-covered mound, behind a sign promoting a 2005 opening.

Typically, he explained, a specific level of pre-leased space will trigger a loan to get construction started. That large-scale construction isn't occurring indicates General Growth hasn't pre-leased enough space to make the project go.

"If there was high demand to be out there, it [construction] would have happened already," Mr. Shawaker said. "So clearly, the demand isn't driving the project."

Duke Wheeler, an agent for CB Richard Ellis/Reichle Klein, a Maumee commercial real estate firm, said General Growth likely has other developments that have fewer hurdles or are a bit more pressing.

Local commercial real estate and construction experts have said that General Growth would need to have started building the project by now to try to be open by its 2006 target. Such work typically takes about 18 months. The project is near the interchange of U.S. 24 with I-475/U.S. 23.

Ms. Jacoby said the firm has had "a subtle ground-breaking" on the project, having graded and done other preparation work. However, a visit to the site last week found no activity and no evidence of any recent earth movement.

Contractors had moved dirt on the site many months ago, and a mound is now weed-covered.

Stan Eichelbaum, a mall consultant with Marketing Developments Inc. in Cincinnati, said General Growth stands a great chance of getting the project moving this spring.

"The retail development market is explosive right now," he said. "People who were doing one or two stores in a market are now going for three or four."

When the developer altered the project to a smaller, outdoor center, the opposition lessened.

Maumee officials have given approvals for the project to proceed.

The General Growth spokesman said Fallen Timbers was to have been more prominent at the convention but was moved at the last minute to allow for display of a map of the firm's projects.

"The leasing on [Fallen Timbers] has been going very smoothly," Ms. Jacoby said. "So it was decided that it wasn't necessary for it to take up a large space out front."

However, the project shows no noticeable signs of life.

The developer maintains it has commitment letters from Dillard's, National Amusements, Barnes & Noble, and P.F. Chang's China Bistro. But such letters are not binding like leases.

Retailers must decide whether to wait for the project or go elsewhere in the Toledo market.

"Kohl's was asking me eight years ago about this," said Mr. Shawaker, of Michael Realty. "They said, 'Should we wait for General Growth or should we go on the site at Airport [Highway] and U.S. 23?' "

The department store went to Airport Highway, and now Maumee isn't a priority, he said.

Meanwhile, Town Center at Levis Commons was built last year a few miles away in Perrysburg, and has had considerable success, likely luring some stores that had considered Fallen Timbers.

Spinoff projects near Levis Commons, which is on State Rte. 25 just south of I-475/U.S. 23, also are proceeding and could grab other stores that General Growth might want.

Fallen Timbers is a good location, but General Growth needs some pioneers, and the list of those available is shrinking, Mr. Shawaker said.

The developer is a big company that can afford to wait for the right mix of retailers, he said. "But for how long?"

Contact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.

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