Prospects for vacant retail, restaurant sites?
Published: Saturday, January 28, 2012 at 8:16 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 28, 2012 at 8:16 p.m.
Large retail and prime restaurant locations sit empty in shopping centers along main roads throughout Gainesville, left vacant by the struggles of former occupants or their parent companies.
Some of the notable vacant commercial properties in Gainesville and their status:
Former occupant: Last occupied, Prospects
ARCHER ROAD AREA
GOODY'S: 2008, Lease offered to retailer
HOPS: 2009, Lease offered to restaurant
TOOJAY'S DELI: 2011,Lease offered to restaurant
CICI'S PIZZA: 2011, Lease offered to different CiCi's franchisee
PUBLIX: Around 2008 (was UF leased), In talks with two businesses
MICHAEL'S/SHONEY'S: 2010, Lease offered to restaurant
BACK YARD BURGERS: 2011, Had showings
NW 13TH STREET/MAIN STREET
ALBERTSONS: 2011, Unknown. Speculation: Suitable for large office or family entertainment center
STICKS ‘N' STUFF: 2011, Unknown. Speculation: Suitable for national retailer
PIC ‘N SAVE/VERDE PLAZA: 1996, Will be split into three smaller spaces.
BRASINGTON CADILLAC: 2008, Working with two local restaurants
ASHLEY FURNITURE/NORTHSIDE SHOPPING CENTER: 2007, In talks with national retailer
WINN-DIXIE/NORTHWOOD VILLAGE: Around 2008 (was furniture store), Expects retail interest when nearby Wal-Mart Supercenter breaks ground.
HUNTERS WALK (NW 43rd St.): Built 2009, Had showings
BORDERS: 2011, Unknown.
FOOD LION: Closing Feb. 15, Unknown. Speculation: Suitable for hardware store or another grocer
Many have been empty since their occupants closed late last year. Others have languished on the market for years as property owners held out for better deals or they lost deals when their prospects balked at renovation costs or the lure of better market demographics.
Those working behind the scenes to fill the vacancies say prospects are starting to look up, especially for properties in high-traffic, heavy-retail areas such as Archer Road, while those outside the higher-income demographics of west Gainesville have fewer interested prospects.
The long-vacant Goody's and Hops locations are perhaps the most baffling, considering the retail gravity of Butler Plaza on Archer Road, but leasing director Kathy Ward said the shopping center held out for the market to turn and that lease offers are out on both places to companies that would be new to Gainesville.
“Deborah (Butler) has held off until the market turned so we could get the rents we were looking for, for some of these vacancies,” Ward said.
Ward said her most imminent deal, which she expects to close soon, is with a restaurant to go in the former TooJay's Deli that has been vacant since late 2011.
Elsewhere in Butler Plaza, Tijuana Flats opened on Monday in part of the former Blockbuster that closed in 2010. A furniture store is under construction in the remaining space; a Massage Envy Spa franchise recently opened between Publix and Target; and Weight Watchers is renovating a space next to Outback.
“We've got a lot of tenants we're working with on the few remaining vacancies,” Ward said.
In the western part of the plaza owned by Regency Windmeadows, Vice Chairman Hal Lambert said he made a lease offer earlier this week to reopen the recently closed CiCi's Pizza under a different franchisee after the former franchisee “was not paying rent to my satisfaction.”
Lambert said he is talking to two prospects for the spot Publix left years ago in the same strip and expects to have that rented soon, while he said an independently owned chocolate store will be moving in next to McAlister's Deli in the next 60 days.
Across Archer Road, a restaurant has a contract that is yet to close on the the former Shoney's that housed a Michael's restaurant briefly in 2010, said Mike Ryals of Bosshardt Realty Services, who was showing restaurant spaces on Wednesday.
Despite a number of vacant restaurant spaces, he said it can be difficult to find one that fits a restaurant's specific needs for space and proximity to a certain demographic.
Among other Bosshardt listings, he said the old Back Yard Burgers on Southwest 34th Street has had some showings, while agents have had trouble finding interest for the former Melting Pot that has been empty since 2009 in downtown Gainesville.
“It has to be someone who wants to be downtown. It's a niche market,” he said.
Ryals said restaurant and retail prospects have improved over the past year.
He said prospects are looking at the 27,000-square-foot space built two years ago in Hunters Walk on Northwest 43rd Street and that a national retailer is in talks for the former Ashley Furniture location in the Northside Shopping Center at Northwest 23rd Avenue and Main Street.
Beau Beery of Coldwell Banker M.M. Parrish Realtors said Northside has been tough to fill because of the demographics of the area.
“If you're in a high-income place, you have a wider range of tenants you can call on,” he said.
Beery's quarterly market analysis shows that the larger the space, the longer it takes to fill. Vacancies of more than 25,000 square feet have an average of 3.5 years on the market.
A number of closings in 2011 have added to the inventory of large spaces, namely Borders near The Oaks Mall, and Albertsons and Sticks ‘N' Stuff at Northwest 13th Street and 23rd Avenue.
Betsy Whitaker of Asset Management has been trying to fill the former Pic ‘N' Save in Verde Plaza on the other side of 13th Street and 23rd Avenue since 1996. She said Burlington Coat Factory was lined up to go in there but decided to wait to locate on Archer Road after the Gainesville City Commission approved the expansion of Butler Plaza.
Now the Verde Plaza owner plans to divide the anchor spot into three smaller spaces.
Whitaker said the demographics of the old Gainesville Mall area on Northwest 13th Street supports retailers but that it will be difficult to fill large spaces without the arrival of a big developer with connections. The situation could worsen should the nearby Wal-Mart close once a supercenter is built in the 5800 block of Northwest 34th Street.
Further north on 13th Street, a big retailer should improve prospects for the Northwood Village Shopping Center near Northwest 34th Street. The center has struggled since Winn-Dixie closed around 2000, but property manager John Thomas said he expects a lot of interest from retailers once Wal-Mart breaks ground soon on the new supercenter.
Elsewhere on 13th Street, a couple of local restaurants are looking at splitting off a corner lot of the larger Brasington Cadillac property where the showroom was located, Beery said.
Beery's partner, Todd Rainsberger, said they almost landed a national tire store there and had interest from fast-food restaurants, but the city does not allow drive-thrus to be added to that area of 13th Street.
Other large retail spaces might have to pursue alternative uses.
David Ramsey, director of economic development for the Council for Economic Outreach, said officials cross-list some retail spaces when trying to recruit relocating or expanding businesses. The prime example is the Enterprise Rent-a-Car call center in the former Winn-Dixie off Tower Road.
CEO focuses its recruiting efforts on businesses with career jobs and can help secure tax incentives for those in desirable industries with above-average wages. Ramsey said CEO does not recruit retail and restaurants — those follow market demographics — but does provide market information if they come calling.
Beery said the Albertsons spot might have to consider alternative uses such as a medical center, a call center or a family entertainment center.
“That's the kind of stuff that's moving and popping right now,” he said.
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