From old strip malls come new developments in Fairview Heights

St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), 2014-04-25

April 25 -- FAIRVIEW HEIGHTS -- This city, which rode the wave of the retail and commercial development boom in the 1970s and 1980s, is getting a bit of a fresh face.

New retailers are starting to fill the space left vacant by older stores that failed during the recent recession.

And Mike Malloy , the Fairview Heights economic development director, is pleased.

He pointed to several developments in 2013. "It not only was a good year -- it was a very good year," Malloy said.

He pointed to the $32 million , 180,000-square-foot Kimco Realty Corp. project that is redeveloping the former Kmart strip mall site, just across Illinois Route 159 from St. Clair Square Mall . The centerpiece of that redevelopment is a Fresh Thyme Farmers Market , scheduled to open this fall.

The entire project, called Fairview Heights City Centre , also will include a new HomeGoods store, and new Sports Authority , Petco and Office Max stores that already have opened.

Other new developments during the last year cited by Malloy are:

--Cheddars restaurant: $1.5 million project; 8,066 square feet, on the site of the former Casa Gallardo restaurant.

-- Kirkland's : $311,000 project; 8,116-square-foot store, on the site of the former NTB tire and auto parts store.

-- Sears Outlet : $295,000 project; 31,000-square-foot redevelopment of the former Circuit City store.

--DXL Men's Apparel: $305,000 project; 8,135-square-foot store; in the space of the former Max and Erma's restaurant at St. Clair Square .

--Savers Thrift: $306,500 project; 34,164 square feet; new construction.

-- GFS Marketplace : $1.9 million project; 16,149 square feet; new construction.

--King's Beauty Supply: $50,000 relocation to a larger store site; 9,600 square feet.

-- Vatterott College : $685,000 new cosmetology school and veterinary clinic; 21,349 square feet.

"There's no question that we definitely have some things going on," Malloy said. "That's why we're still called the retail hub of Southern Illinois ."

Plans also were underway for a Here Today value retail store, an outpatient medical clinic and a restaurant and hotel complex. He said he hoped those projects would be approved and built within the next two years.

An effect of the new developments, Malloy said, is a steady increase in local sales and business district tax revenue for the years 2009 through 2013.

The city took in $14.9 million in sales and business district tax revenues last year, up from $12.5 million in 2012. That figure stood at $11.1 million in 2009.

He attributed most of that growth to the easing of the recession and to sales at the new developments, as well as increasing sales at the city's older retailers.

Jesse Tron , a spokesman for the International Council of Shopping Centers , said retail sales were growing -- albeit slowly in some areas -- throughout the United States .

Tron said Fairview Heights' approach of redeveloping old malls and strip malls has worked well in some other parts of the nation. A key, he said, is having high traffic volume near redeveloped sites.

Fairview Heights benefits from a steady stream of traffic along Interstate 64 , Illinois Route 159 and U.S. Highway 50 . That is a hopeful sign for retail growth as the economy improves, Tron said.

He added that it's a good idea for St. Clair Square , which opened in the early 1970s, to continue to remodel and add tenants as store openings occur.

"For malls, we say they should update at least every 10 years," Tron said.

One big sore spot in redeveloping Fairview Heights continues to be the closed U.S. Ice Sports Complex at 125 South Ruby Lane . That 75,000-square-foot facility, which featured two regulation-size ice rinks, was shut down suddenly in October 2012 because of extensive damage caused by mine subsidence.

Leon Lekai , the ice complex's owner, said he had no immediate plans to repair and reopen the facility. He said he was waiting for studies by structural engineers to determine whether fixing and reopening the rinks would be a good investment.

Malloy, the economic development director, said he had seen some estimates that repairing the subsidence damage and stabilizing the complex for reopening could cost at least $1 million . Lekai declined to say how much he might consider spending to fix the ice facility.

Malloy also said at least one prospective buyer had expressed interest in purchasing and restoring the complex. He declined to identify the possible buyer or give details.

Robert Kelly covers networking for the business section of the Post-Dispatch .


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