Friday, February 6, 2004

Mall makeover poised to begin


Anderson Towne Center in starting blocks

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Developer Kent Cost of Victory Investments speaks in front of a demographic comparison of the areas around the new Anderson Towne Center and Rookwood Commons in Norwood and the national average.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
ANDERSON TWP. - The former Beechmont Mall's transformation should be ready by next holiday season.

After years of decline and neglect, the mall is becoming Anderson Towne Center - with 1950s streetscape, new shops, a renovated Lazarus store and the world's largest Kroger

That was trumpeted Thursday when the center's developer, Lazarus and Kroger officials addressed about 200 business and community leaders at the Anderson Area Chamber of Commerce's monthly luncheon.

But a Showcase Cinemas featuring more than a dozen screens won't be in the mix, at least for now, Trustee President Russ Jackson Jr. told the crowd at Mercy HealthPlex.

"I wish I could tell you more than that; but it's still on the table, and it's still moving forward," he said of a proposal from National Amusements Inc., to open a movie theater in Anderson.

Meanwhile, the township's enviable demographics are helping to drive interest in the mall, said Kent Cost, vice president of Victory Investments Inc., of Columbus, Ga., the mall developer.

Upscale area

The median household income in a two-mile radius of Anderson Towne Center at Five Mile Road and Beechmont Avenue is $67,700.

Cost said that's higher than the median household income near Rookwood Commons in Norwood, which is $45,300. The national average is $42,400.

And while some in the community have grown antsy at the perceived slow pace of the project and lack of more new tenants being announced so far, Cost urged patience.

Construction will begin soon, new tenants have been signed, and announcements of who they are should begin this spring and continue until the mall reopens late this year, he said.

"Anderson Towne Center will be a quality project," Cost said. "Redevelopment is messy. There are thousands of moving pieces to the puzzle. It takes months and years to formulate and execute a plan. It is remarkable we stand here today on the edge of the final phase of development."

Demolition on the mall began last year as part of an initiative to both upgrade the shopping center and to create a community focal point for Anderson's 43,857 residents.

The Lazarus, Kmart and other stores and restaurants have remained at the mall and are remodeling.

Coming attractions

More restaurants and two 40,000-square-foot office buildings are coming.

Work at Lazarus will begin in April and wrap up in August with expanded women's apparel, jewelry, handbags and cosmetics, said Tom Rau, general manager of the Beechmont Lazarus. Other departments will see expanded lines and updates.

Kroger plans to open its 104,000-square-foot store with a fuel station, Starbucks and Fred Meyer Jewelry Store by Thanksgiving.

While many in attendance at Thursday's luncheon were excited by the project, others were skeptical and said they expected more upscale retailers.

"It's boring. It's dull," Meg Ober of Anderson Township said of the Lazarus store. "It's cramped. It's small. We want Kenwood (Towne Centre) here."

And there were concerns about the size of the Kroger store, which will be about as big as two football fields.

"I won't be coming to this mall," Claudia Krysiak of Mount Washington said. "I am just not excited about a mega-Kroger. My opinion is, 'Big deal.'"

E-mail jedwards@enquirer.com



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