Repositioned Shops of Grand Avenue garners new tenants
By Mark Kass, for SBT
Construction has begun on the build-out for two new anchor stores for The Shops of Grand Avenue, a move that Shops representatives believe will be a major step in the revitalization of the struggling downtown Milwaukee shopping center.
The opening of T.J. Maxx and Linen 'N Things in the Plankinton Arcade portion of the mall, which is slated for Nov. 1, will also continue the transformation of the Shops from a regional shopping center to one that is focusing on drawing customers from the growing downtown housing market, along with the nearby neighborhoods.
"We're not attempting to draw from Delafield or the western part of New Berlin; we don't consider Grand Avenue a regional mall anymore," said Joseph Weirick, who oversees the Grand Avenue's leasing efforts. "We want to get back all the people that live within three to five miles of the mall. That is the audience we are trying to sell to and focus on."
The shopping center's renovation plans call for substantial changes to the Plankinton Arcade. T.J. Maxx and Linens 'N Things will each occupy first-floor space within the arcade, along Wisconsin Avenue between Plankinton Avenue and 2nd Street. They will have entrances from Wisconsin Avenue.
The two new stores are designed to replace the retail element lost with the closing of the Marshall Field's department store in 1997. The former Marshall Field's building now houses offices, a hotel, a bank and a Border's Bookstore, which opened in November 2002.
The other major anchor of The Shops of Grand Avenue, Boston Store, is located at the center's western end in space that recently underwent a major interior remodeling. Exterior renovations on the Boston Store building are under way.
The project also includes new external entrances to the mall and the relocation of several stores, including the Chocolate Factory, Children's Place, Payless Shoe Store and Daly's Pen Shop.
Weirick said Chocolate Factory, Village Shop and Daly's would be moved to the second floor of the Plankinton Arcade within 60 days. Children's Place and Payless Shoe earlier moved to the western section of the shopping center, near Boston Store.
Mall officials are working with additional retailers to try and increase the shopping center's occupancy rate that, after the opening of the two new anchor stores, will be about 80%. Weirick said Grand Avenue officials are close to a deal with a restaurant for a portion of the space near Wisconsin and Plankinton avenues. He declined to identify the prospective tenant.
"We are talking to a lot of retailers right now, but the retail industry in general right now is not in great shape," he said. "Unless you are looking for a Kohl's, Target or Wal-Mart, the pickings are very slim."
Weirick said the opening of T.J. Maxx and Linen 'N Things will help attract additional retailers. He said the two stores should add between $5 million to $10 million in annual sales.
"We are very confident that when you add that much in sales, you are going to attract additional retailers," he said. "We are looking to add women, children and family retailers. We're also looking at what the market needs and that may include electric or office supply stores."
Weirick pointed to the success of the Border's Book Store, as evidence that new retailers can prosper at Grand Avenue. Mark Irgens, a Milwaukee real estate developer who is one of the owners of the former Marshall Field's building, said that the sales and customer traffic at Border's are "better than expected."
"They are doing well and I expect that to only get better," Irgens said.
Irgens said he is excited about the redevelopment of the Grand Avenue because it will help the tenants in his building, including the hotel and office space.
"The mall has not been as successful in recent years as many of us would like it to be, but I am confident that is changing," he said. "Any time you can add two major stores, it is going to increase traffic and that is good for everyone."
A number of smaller retailers have recently opened in The Shops of Grand Avenue, including Wild Flour Bakery, Qdoba Mexican Grill, Subway and Stone Creek Coffee. Work is under way on space for an Applebee's restaurant. And St. Francis Bank recently moved its downtown office from the northwest corner of Wisconsin and Plankinton avenues into The Shops.
The Grand Avenue, which opened in the 1980s, has struggled in recent years as shoppers have frequented malls closer to their suburban homes. At one point, the vacancy rate soared above 50%. Part of the mall's problem, Weirick said, was that its national management firm lost interest as its focus shifted.
"We understand that we have to build this back up and it is going to be a tall order," he said. "But we are confident that if we concentrate on the market near the mall, we are going to be successful."
The $18.2 million cost of remodeling the Plankinton Arcade to house the new tenants will be supported in part by a $5 million city contribution that will be repaid through the creation of a tax incremental financing district.
City officials are confident the recent housing explosion in downtown Milwaukee will help the renovated Grand Avenue to be successful. Since 1997, more than 3,600 new units of housing have been constructed or are currently under construction in downtown Milwaukee, representing more than $715 million in new investment.
"We're creating a 24 hour downtown that is lively and attractive," said Julie Penman, commissioner of the Milwaukee Department of City Development. "People live and work downtown. As more people live downtown, they have needs for retail services."
Penman said she is confident the new tenants and the renovation will mean success for the closely watched mall, which in turn will help in efforts to lure people downtown
"The plans will definitely help revitalize The Shops of Grand Avenue," she said. "Retail is a form of entertainment and lifestyle that is part of the total downtown experience
The project, in conjunction with all of the other recent downtown activity, should help guarantee success. The retailers announced to date should be highly successful and cause other retailers to want to participate in the project."
March 7, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee