Face-lift coming for Great Western Commerce Center
Owners set hopes on mix of tenants that goes far beyond retail
New owners are spending more than $2 million to breathe new life into the Great Western Commerce Center, renovating the center in an effort to attract a more diverse mix of tenants.
RD Management of New York purchased the center in 2013 for $7.1 million.
“We’re basically rebranding it and upgrading it to attract more tenants,” said Richard Birdoff, a principal at RD Management. “ And not solely retail tenants. We’re looking for a more mixed-use complex.”
Great Western’s roster already offers variety, including the Franklin County Opportunity Center — a neighborhood service center operated by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services — as well as the Great Western Academy charter school. Two staffing offices also call the commerce center home, along with retailers Restaurant Depot and Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore.
The center’s former anchor, a Kroger supermarket, has been closed for several years.
“This has been a positive when you consider where this (center) was clearly in decline five or seven years ago,” said E.J. Thomas, CEO of Habitat for Humanity-MidOhio. “(Birdoff) and his team were willing to put their dollars on the table and take a swing.”
The renovation includes new facades and roofs, as well as improvements to the mechanical systems and parking lot. The work is nearly completed.
The Great Western Commerce Center was once part of the Great Western Shopping Center that was built — and later sold — by the Casto-Skilken Group. It opened in 1955 as one of the region’s largest such centers and later featured the Walk O’ Wonders, which had scale-model replicas of the Eiffel Tower, Leaning Tower of Pisa and Taj Mahal.
The Great Western Shopping Center, just south of the commerce center, remains open and is primarily a retail center. It is owned by Texas-based Spigel Properties.
The city’s efforts to revitalize the West Side are what attracted Birdoff’s interest in the Great Western Commerce Center, not its proximity to Hollywood Casino Columbus.
“Anytime you have urban areas that have gone through some abandonment and neglect, you need some pioneers and some governmental input for a rebirth,” he said. “I’m impressed with what Columbus has done Downtown and the river projects and the plans for Franklinton — and (efforts) to extend that to the west.”
He believes the area around the Great Western is in the early stages of a turnaround and said RD Management is looking at other properties in the area to purchase and turn into similar mixed-use centers.
“The casino corridor has been extensively renovated recently, but there are still little pockets where nothing is happening,” said Lane Newcome, chairman of the Greater Hilltop Area Commission. “ People are waiting to see how the casino does. That’s what I was told by businesspeople.”
The mixed-use strategy of RD Management fits in with the area’s master plan, said Chris Haydocy, the owner of Haydocy Automotive and president of Weston Vision, the West Side’s economic-development organization.
“They’re following the blueprint,” he said. “Retail is gone here and instead of putting a square peg in a round hole, which has been tried unsuccessfully, they’re putting a round peg in a round hole.”
The Great Western Commerce Center is at the forefront of the mixed-use trend, according to one area retail expert.
“I think they’re ahead of the curve, and this mixed-use idea will be a huge trend in the next 20 years because there are so many dying malls,” said Chris Boring, a principal of Boulevard Strategies, a local retail-consulting firm.
The popularity of online shopping has created “more retail space than we’ll ever need in central Ohio,” he said, adding that this will increase the need to find nonretail types of tenants for all the empty spaces.
Doctor’s offices are one possibility.
“They look for the same thing as retailers: visibility and easy in-and-out access,” Boring said.
Great Western has one 50,000-square-foot vacancy and several smaller ones that range from 960 square feet to 2,700 square feet.
“We’re talking to three possible tenants for the 50,000-square-foot site,” Birdoff said. “One is in the entertainment area, and the other is in education.”