Friday, October 3, 2003

Race is on for N.Ky outdoor shopping complex

Pat Crowley

Things are heating up in the race between cities and developers to be the first in Northern Kentucky to build an outdoor shopping complex like Norwood's Rookwood Commons.

Here are the major players:

• Jeff Anderson, the developer of Rookwood Commons, and the city of Crestview Hills in Kenton County. Anderson is trying to put together a deal to redevelop the tomb-like Crestview Hills Mall along Interstate 275. Anderson wants to tear down just about everything and bring in new shops. Dillard's, the department store anchoring the mall, will stay but be refurbished or rebuilt.

• Bear Creek Capital of Cincinnati and the city of Crescent Springs, also in Kenton County. Bear Creek seems to be moving the fastest of any of the developers involved, already cutting a deal with the city to float bonds that would pay for infrastructure to its development site. It is now home to a mobile home community near I-75 and Buttermilk Pike and has poor access.

Anderson's location is more ready for development. There are restaurants already in the parking lot, including a Carrabba's Italian Grill set to open later this month. And Trio, an east-side hot spot, is likely to move in as well if the project takes off.

But Anderson still hasn't closed a deal with the mall's Kansas City owner, which is delaying planning for the project.

• Florence Mall owner General Growth Properties of Chicago and the city of Florence. Florence recently completed a study of Mall Road - one of Greater Cincinnati's best-known retail corridors - and is hoping General Growth embarks on a plan not only to refurbish Florence Mall but also add an outdoor urban retail center adjacent to the mall.

Florence City Coordinator Jeff Koenig said earlier this week that he agrees with comments Anderson has made that more than one specialty retail center won't succeed in Northern Kentucky.

"It just won't work," Koenig said. "Northern Kentucky has plenty of room for more than one Wal-Mart, more generalized retailers. But we don't have the population or the demographic in Northern Kentucky for more than one specialty center. There's only room for one location of some stores like Old Navy, Abercrombie & Fitch and stores like that."

Naturally, Koenig said, with its reputation as a major retail center, Florence is the best place for such a center. He described Houston Road, a retail corridor near Mall Road, as the retail "power center of Northern Kentucky."

Anderson said as much a few weeks ago when he made a presentation to a Crestview Hills City Council committee. And he had some tough words about the Crescent Springs site, saying he looked at the property five years ago but walked away because it wasn't suited for retail success.

Crestview Hills officials have also touted their project, saying an existing mall location with a well-known anchor, restaurants already operating and two interstate highway access ramps is far better than a smaller and undeveloped piece of property.

Bear Creek isn't biting.

"We're not getting into a war of words over these projects," said Bear Creek partner Tim Baird. "We're just moving forward on what is going to be a great project."

Bear Creek has said there is room for two lifestyle centers, but it's clear the developer is trying to get out front before other projects get going.


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