TOLEDO — The retail landscape continues to shift in the U.S. and a pair of properties in northwest Ohio provide an interesting juxtaposition.
After a decade of conjecture and stalled plans, the former Southwyck Mall site in Toledo is being transformed into an Amazon delivery station, which city officials consider a monumental victory. There is more positive development news about seven miles southeast at the former Holiday Inn French Quarter in Perrysburg Township, where developers are building a mixed-use commercial center.
The general consensus is both sites are destined for new success, but the paths taken to reach that point couldn’t have been more different.
The Southwyck Mall was demolished in 2009, and the city purchased the 58-acre parcel for $3.6 million. Plans to redevelop the area into a retail hub spanned multiple administrations.
Then-Mayor Carty Finkbeiner teamed with developer Larry Dillin — who later brought the Town Center at Levis Commons to Perrysburg — to attract retailers. Mayor Mike Bell’s administration proposed an indoor sporting center with hotels. Others envisioned a recreational area.
None of those plans came to fruition and the property sat vacant for over 10 years.
“The biggest challenge is there was never a strategy,” said Brandon Sehlhorst, Toledo commissioner of economic development. “There was never a consensus on what it should be or a plan.It wasn’t being marketed outside the city’s website. Who goes to the city’s website when they’re looking for property that scale?”
Sehlhorst said the property’s awkward shape contributed to the challenges in finding a suitor. The city received some interest in the land near Key Bank and MacDonald’s, but didn’t want to split up the parcel.
Northwest Ohio developer Brian McMahon said plans to create a retail center never stood a chance. When Dillard’s moved to the Shops at Fallen Timbers in Maumee, McMahon said there was a provision drawn up stating certain department stores could not develop on the old Southwyck property if they were going to compete with Dillard’s new store.
“As time went on, retail shifted in the market,” McMahon said. “Fallen Timbers and Levis came along. The biggest shift in retail is when 3 million square feet of new retail was developed in the Crossroads [in Rossford]. That changed the landscape. Southwyck languished, the area around there deteriorated. It was very difficult for the city to attract retail.”
The Reynolds Road corridor near Southwyck changed, too. Retail was on the way out in the area, including a Kroger store. Logistics and distribution companies were starting to move in, including Williams Distribution in the former Toys R Us. UPS’ main distribution facility is nearby in Maumee.
Two years ago, the city began the process of rezoning the property with the goal of landing Amazon. The city applied for Amazon’s HQ2, which Sehlhorst said helped establish relationships in the company.
“We knew there was never really an opportunity for HQ2 here,” he said. “But we thought, “How can we pitch the site and use this opportunity with Amazon to get a connection or get the site in front of some decision-makers?’ We were in communication ever since. The delivery station concept is more in line with what we envisioned.”
Sehlhorst said Amazon also considered the site for a distribution center, which was ultimately built in Rossford.
“Having a Fortune 500 company presence in the city is huge for us,” Sehlhorst said. “It’s exactly what we set out to accomplish. Amazon was our No. 1 target for that site.”
The delivery station will bring over 100 jobs to the site in a 150,000 square foot facility, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2020.
The Holiday Inn French Quarter closed in the spring of 2019 after 52 years. Just over a year later, River Rock Property Group LLC purchased the land with the intention of razing the hotel and creating a mixed-use development with retail, restaurants, and possibly a new hotel.
River Rock co-founder Bill Bostleman said there is already heavy interest from possible tenants, including three restaurants, fitness centers, retailers, and a hotel.
“The highway interchange is highly desirable for the commercial users we’re pursuing,” Bostleman said. “Restaurants, hotels, retail, even offices like that easy freeway access, which the site certainly has. The other factor is Route 20 in Perrysburg and Rossford has been vibrant and growing, whereas the Southwyck area has been stagnant or even declining for 10-20 years.”
Bostleman said Perrysburg’s demographics income levels are more favorable for this type of development. The Amazon fulfillment center will also create more traffic past the development, which is attractive to potential tenants.
McMahon said the development on Fremont Pike Road’s proximity to the Crossroads area is another plus.
“The advantage it has is it’s a gateway to all the retail development that’s happened out there,” he said. “One of the primary entrances is the interstate and Route 20, and the Holiday Inn is right there. Retail likes to go where other retail is and where the jobs are.”
The French Quarter Square will create about 150 jobs and the first businesses are expected to open in spring or summer, 2021.