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Published: Sunday, 11/21/2004

At east side's only enclosed mall, an opportunity for a turnaround

Officials of The Andersons, one of Woodville Mall's anchors, say they plan to stay in the shopping center for the forseeable future. the blade Woodville has become, by default, the Toledo area's No. 2 mall. Officials of The Andersons, one of Woodville Mall's anchors, say they plan to stay in the shopping center for the forseeable future. the blade Woodville has become, by default, the Toledo area's No. 2 mall.

It was the first of the Toledo area's enclosed regional malls and certainly one of the grandest. But these days, the state of the Woodville Mall in Northwood could best be described as unusual.

Despite having three apparently solid anchor stores - The Andersons, Elder-Beerman, and Sears Roebuck & Co. - and a four-screen movie theater that does good business, half of the mall's 100 store sites are empty.

Of those that are filled, only about a dozen hold regular local or national stores. The rest have mom-and-pop stores on low-priced lease tryouts or non-retail tenants, such as a church and a Coast Guard recruiting station.

Further, the only mall on the east side of the Maumee River is losing tenants. Two national stores, Payless Shoes and Fashion Bug, left in the last two months, and a handful of others are debating whether to stick around.

"The Andersons, they've got their following and they always will have it, but it may be too late for some of the other businesses here," said Douglas Shaffer, owner of fitness club Lifestyles For Ladies Only. He has had a site in the center for eight years, but is considering departing.

"We're a destination-driven business, so we can be anywhere," he said.

The 800,000-square-foot mall, built in 1969 off Woodville Road about a mile east of I-280, was doing so well four years ago that the fitness club picked up business from shoppers, Mr. Shaffer said. "It hasn't gotten better here, it's gotten worse."

But an opportunity is at hand.

Woodville has become, by default, the Toledo area's No. 2 mall. Woodville has become, by default, the Toledo area's No. 2 mall.

With the demise of the former North Towne Square in Toledo as a shopping mall and the dwindling number of retailers in the Southwyck Shopping Center in Toledo, Woodville has become, by default, the area's No. 2 mall, behind Westfield Shoppingtown Franklin Park.

Built by the former DeBartolo Corp. of Youngstown and renovated in 1987, the center suffered a threat to its stability in 1998 when Simon Property Group of Indianapolis put it up for sale.

For years after, some tenants say, Simon did little to freshen the building. Instead, its appearance deteriorated.

The center was sold for $2.5 million in September to two California businessmen, Jack Kashani and Sammy Kahen, under the name Nationwide Toledo Real Estate Investment LLC. The two also own the former North Towne, renamed Lakeside Centre. That Alexis Road center is devoid of retail and its future is unclear.

Woodville will remain a shopping mall, and it will be renovated and efforts will be made to fill the empty stores, Mr. Kashani told The Blade last week.

"We are working with some major tenants right now and we are preparing some plans and negotiating right now with possible new tenants," he said.

"I'm very optimistic we can turn this around. It's a great piece of property."

The mall owners have hired Krone Group LLC of Cleveland to help find tenants and redesign and manage the mall.

Krone manages about 50 enclosed centers, mostly in the Midwest, and has sought ideas and drawings from architectural firms for redoing Woodville.

"The new owners have assured us that within a year, the mall will be 90 to 95 percent occupied," said Teri Kohlhofer, co-owner of Cupid's Closet. The store, which has been in the mall for two years, specializes in lingerie and adult novelty items.

Tenants and the new owners met a month ago to discuss the future, Ms. Kohlhofer said.

"There were a lot of things that were promised including the possibility of purchasing more land, but as of yet we haven't seen anything," she said.

The owners did not give a timetable, but warned tenants they may not see changes for six to nine months and that turning the mall around may take 18 months.

That may not be soon enough. Cupid's Closet and others have been scouting for possible new locations. Spencer Gifts, The Golf Outlet, Trudy's, White River Mortgage, and K.B. Toys are among stores that have left.

Others tenants aren't sure if they will be welcomed to stay.

For example, the owners of Woodville Skate Park aren't sure whether their lease will be renewed. The business, in space that a department store vacated nearly a decade ago, features skateboard, bicylce, and inline-skate ramps for use by its 12,000 registered customers.

Leases at the mall are "a convoluted mess," said Dave Long, a commercial real estate agent with CB Richard Ellis/Reichle Klein in Maumee. He negotiated a failed attempt by Mr. Kashani and Mr. Kahen to purchase the mall in 2003.

At that time, he said, it was impossible to determine sales per square foot at the mall because of too many temporary and off-price leases.

Fewer than a dozen tenants paid traditional rents, he said. To fill vacancies, Simon in 2002 offered one-year leases for $5 a square foot, or about a third of comparable prices in the area.

As a result, the mall ended up with many small start-ups, including Cupid's Closet, and with non-retail tenants such as the Harbor Light Christian Church, a Coast Guard office, a miniature-car racing track, a law firm, and the skate park.

A number of those leases can be terminated with 30 days' notice by the mall owners, Mr. Long said. That might happen if higher-paying, retail tenants can be found.

Neither Sears nor Elder-Beerman officials returned calls about their continuing status in Woodville Mall.

But Jim Hinkle, head of retail operations for The Andersons, said the Maumee company is content in the mall.

"We will be there for the foreseeable future," he said.

"Success-wise, it's a very viable store for us. Our volume is decent. It's our lowest-volume store out of the three in Toledo, but it's right in the middle range of our six stores in Ohio."

As for the mall itself, Mr. Hinkle said, his company is optimistic the new owners will turn it around.

Joe Sterling, co-owner of D.K. Entertainment Inc. in Monroe, Mich., which owns the movie theater in the mall, said he has done well there and is optimistic.

"We look forward to working with the new owners because the maintenance and security with the previous owner were sadly lacking, and I think that affected everybody in the mall," he said.

Still, he conceded, it won't be easy to revive the mall, with the high number of vacancies.

But Mr. Shaffer, of Lifestyles for Ladies, said the area around the mall has grown in population and east-side residents are weary of driving to Franklin Park.

"You look at the rooftops on the east side and … the customer base is there now," he said, acknowledging he is not sure whether he will stay in the center.

"I can only fight the good fight for so long. I would hope something would become of Woodville because that could only benefit everybody."

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

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