Last updated: August 25. 2013 3:15AM - 203 Views

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LIMA — With The Andersons closed, the American Mall is officially a vacant building, but the mall’s owners say it won’t stay that way forever, and changes may be coming sooner than some expected.

Duke Connor, vice president of real estate for American Mall owners the Cafaro Co., laid out the latest plan for the mall on Tuesday, a plan that mixes the “lifestyle center” concept they originally announced for the property with office space and other uses, what he called “a poor man’s lifestyle center.”

“We feel we’re probably going to go with mixed use with this. There will be a mix of office spaces and restaurants and retail, but it’s not necessarily going to look like the lifestyle centers you see when you go to Columbus and other places. Lima’s not ready for P.F. Chang’s and Gucci and what have you,” Connor said, speaking to the Lima Young Professionals group.

The move to a mixed-use plan may help move the project along faster. For the past five years, Cafaro has been moving toward a new retail model that would require commitment from at least a couple of large retailers before development began. Now there is a possibility that with some commitment from medical offices willing to move into the facility, work could begin before the first store signs on, Connor said.

“If we can get the medical offices in to prime that pump then we’re ready to do that,” Connor said.

Connor did not have a time frame for when work might begin and said that the current plans can change quickly. He estimates he has seen 50 or 60 different plans for the Elm Street property through the years.

“This looks good. We’ve had other things look good in the past,” Connor said.

The latest plans involve taking the current mall down to the slab and steel. Parts of the existing stores would be recovered and a road would run in the middle where the mall concourse once ran.

The open-concept property — renamed American Village —would include multiple buildings, including a 20,000-square-foot medical office building. Connor said he is speaking with local restaurant owners along with national retailers about moving in as well.

Connor said he hopes American Village might also include a market, perhaps a smaller, less pricey version of the popular Whole Foods chain. Cafaro had been in talks with The Andersons before it closed about putting an Andersons Marketplace on the property, but that did not happen.

“We had 20 or 30 meetings at the corporate headquarters. The risk factor for both sides was just off the charts,” Connor said.

Drawing national retailers remains a challenge. The recession and tightening credit put the brakes on most retail development around the country. Even when they do begin expanding, most will be looking to expand in larger markets first, then on to the middle-sized markets such as Lima, Connor said.

“There will be a delay once those floodgates start to open. We get them in a middle market when they can’t find what they want in a major market. We’re going to be there when they are ready,” Connor said.

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