Tuesday, October 08, 2002

Mall wars open new front

West Chester 'no' could mean yes for Liberty Township

By Ken Alltucker kalltucker@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        WEST CHESTER TWP. - If township officials today vote to kill a proposed upscale shopping center off Interstate 75, a developer instead may pursue a mall project slightly north in Liberty Township.

        Neyer Properties and partner Terra Firma Associates have purchased a 65-acre site at the northwest corner of I-75 and the Michael A. Fox Highway and are exploring options for developing that land, including office, retail and warehouses.

        The land is zoned for industrial use, but president Dan Neyer said he and his partners are “looking at other options to make it a higher and better use.”

        Does that include the possibility of building an upscale mall or shopping center there? “We are waiting to see what happens in West Chester,” Mr. Neyer said.

        Today, a public hearing begins that is expected to decide the fate of Evendale-based Neyer's proposed 675,000-square-foot “lifestyle center” of shops, restaurants and office buildings anchored by Showcase Cinemas and a Jeff Ruby steakhouse.

        Last month, the West Chester Zoning Commission approved such a land use, rejecting an earlier township trustees decision to block the project.

        The trustees may again halt the project during a scheduled Oct. 22 vote. All three trustees have said that a competing mall development on Union Centre Boulevard is a better fit for the township's plans.

        Trustee Catherine Stoker said the possibility of Neyer building a retail project in Liberty Township would have no impact on the trustees' zoning decision.

        “That is one of those market decisions,” Ms. Stoker said. “We have no control over what Liberty Township does.”

        Mr. Neyer said he and his partners are figuring out the best fit for the Liberty Township site. He doesn't even know if a large retail project would work there.

        Liberty Township officials say they would willingly accommodate a quality retail and entertainment project.

        “We would be very excited about getting a development of that type,” said Nell Kirkpatrick, Liberty Township's administrator. “We would feel that is a very exciting spot for the retail development.”

        Ms. Kirkpatrick said the site previously was zoned to allow retail use when another firm, Anderson Real Estate, considered building a lifestyle center. But Anderson never purchased the land or pursued the development.

        Mr. Neyer declined to discuss his company's negotiations with retail tenants or other partners for the Liberty Township site.

        He views both the West Chester and Liberty sites as quality pieces of land with vast development possibilities. He added his firm's purchase of the Liberty site is “not intended to be a (threat) in any way, shape or form.”

        “It has great access, great visibility and is in a growing area,” Mr. Neyer said. “And Liberty Township has always been proactive with developments.”

        Neyer has aggressively pursued the West Chester Market Square project with partner Steiner & Associates of Columbus. Neyer owns the 75-acre site, but Steiner would recruit tenants and develop the project. Steiner's other projects include Newport on the Levee and the Easton Town Center outside Columbus.

        Craig Kolb, co-owner of Terra Firma, isn't sure the Liberty site - abutting Lakota East High School - would support a large-scale retail development.

        “Certainly we would consider it, but I think the prospects of that are not terribly realistic with all the other (proposed) malls,” Mr. Kolb said.

        The clamor to build malls in the fast-growing suburbs north of Cincinnati has stirred emotions of developers, politicians and residents.

        At least three other developers have promoted West Chester as the best place for retail tenants.

        Of two projects slated for Union Centre Boulevard, only one appears to have a pulse. Columbus-based Continental Retail Development started plowing ground for its $100 million Streets of West Chester east of I-75. Rave Motion Pictures of Texas plans to open a 4,100-seat theater there; no other tenants have been publicly revealed.

        A third developer, Midland Atlantic, killed plans for an open-air mall at the Voice of America site. It is building a shopping center instead, anchored by Target, and has pursued Bigg's, which has not committed to the site.

        The Neyer and Steiner project is the fourth mall proposed for the booming Butler County township.

        There's even more competition nearby in Mason and Deerfield Township. Casto Realty and Anderson Real Estate - the only Greater Cincinnati developer to successfully build an open-air mall, Rookwood Commons in Norwood - are recruiting tenants for a site on Mason-Montgomery Road. Glimcher Realty plans a super regional mall off Interstate 71 in Mason.


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