Sale of Sears Property Bodes Well for Westland Mall Redevelopment Prospects
Plaza Properties has acquired the former Westland Mall Sears store and parking lot for $3.15 million, bringing the entire 80-plus acre site under the control of one owner and removing a major barrier to the property’s redevelopment.
Franklin County officials and neighborhood advocates have grown frustrated over the course of the last several years with the lack of progress at the site. Local developer Plaza Properties has long controlled about 60 acres of the former mall site.
Deb Miller, whose firm Boulevard Strategies is working with Plaza Properties on plans to redevelop the site, explained that the purchase of the Sears parcels – which sit along the western edge of the site – is important for reasons that go beyond land assembly or freeway visibility.
Westland Mall, like many other malls built in the 1960s, was developed in stages, with anchor stores coming first and the mall connecting them built later. The large department stores like Lazarus and Sears owned the land their stores were on, and signed Reciprocal Easement Agreements stipulating that “neither the mall developer nor the big box stores can do anything to the larger property without everyone’s approval,” said Miller, who added that all of the ideas to redevelop the site that were brought to the former owner of the Sears property were vetoed.
With that hurdle now out of the way, plans that the development team has been working on for two years are finally set to move forward.
Miller would not provide any more of a description for the plan other than “a mixed-use development that complements the casino,” but did say that the developers have been in communication with officials from the city, the county, and both Franklin and Prairie townships about their ideas.
In addition to these ongoing conversations with the public sector – which have included discussions about infrastructure improvements and incentives, like Tax Increment Financing – they’ve been talking to potential tenants, Miller said. She added that, “within the next two to three months, we’ll have a little bit more to say.”
“The fact that there is finally some movement on this property is a huge deal,” said Aryeh Alex, who serves as a Franklin Township Trustee. “It’s been vacant or nearly-vacant for years, (so) any step forward is progress.”
A meeting hosted this week by Franklin County Economic Development and Planning to discuss development issues in the area was well attended and generated plenty of ideas for the Westland site, but community members are still waiting to see a concrete proposal.
“We look forward to seeing what’s going to come out of this,” said Alex, “and we’ll continue to advocate for opportunities for community involvement and for property to stay in the township.”
Miller said that she couldn’t comment on whether the property will remain in the township or eventually be annexed into the City of Columbus (as the casino site was).
All photos by Walker Evans.