Two years after Goody”s clothing store filed bankruptcy and shut its doors in Columbus, PetSmart and T.J. Maxx are preparing to move into the space at the Magnolia Place shopping center.
On average, empty commercial space in Columbus stays vacant for about 18 months, said Brenda Lathan, the Columbus-Lowndes Development Link”s vice president for economic development.
But there are also those buildings that stay empty, sitting idle for years, with less and less likeliness they”ll one day reopen their doors.
The old Walmart plaza, now the Windchase shopping center, stayed empty for several years before Mark Castleberry of Castle Properties made over the building and recruited Ashley Furniture and others to the space.
The former KFC building on Fifth Street North in Columbus, across the street from the Tina Watkins 45 gas station, has been for sale for the past three to four years, since KFC moved farther north on Highway 45, near Kmart.
Nearby Taco Bell fled in the same direction when its lease came up at its former location, in front of Leigh Mall. After about a year, the closed restaurant now has a “pending” sign, as Rhett Realty negotiates a contract with an unnamed tenant.
The Caney Fork (before then, Sante Fe Cattle Co.) restaurant closed in late 2010, due to a dispute with its landlord. And while it has drawn interest, most recently from Chick-fil-A, the building remains empty.
Former Menotti Honda on Highway 45 North, next to Aaron”s Sales and Lease, has been empty for about four years.
“It”s too big for retailers and not big enough for development,” Lathan said, adding the empty spaces aren”t good for recruiting new companies.
“They start to worry if there are too many vacant spots, especially if they start to look rundown,” she said.
Ideally, prospective retailers, restaurants and others can see potential in the buildings already available. But as buildings age and are not maintained, it becomes more cost effective to build new. Many companies have done their research before they land at the Link”s doorstep and know where they want to locate, Lathan said. And the available buildings don”t fit the bill. Corporate offices have specific location requirements, she noted.
“A good example is Zaxby”s,” Lathan said.
Work already had begun on a Zaxby”s site, near KFC on Highway 45.
“When corporate came in, they didn”t like it,” she said.
They instead chose their current location, in front of the Kroger plaza on Highway 45.
Aside from stand-alone buildings, Columbus also offers its share of commercial space in shopping centers.
Leigh Mall has nine empty spaces; Brickerton shopping center off Military Road has three empty office spaces; Lehmberg Crossing, which houses Southern Family Markets, has two empty spaces; Magnolia Place has one empty space; Leigh Mall has nine empty spaces; The Crossing on Highway 45, which houses Hallmark, has two empty spaces. University Mall, which houses Belk department store, has 65,000 square feet of leasable space not including a former movie theater.
“Our spaces don”t usually stay open very long. … They usually get in and stay for a while,” said Rachel Thomas, administrative assistant at Brickyard Properties, which owns the Shops at Brickerton.
Stephen Williams, leasing agent for Leigh Mall, said the mall is at about 87-percent occupancy.
“The mall”s actually doing pretty good,” Williams said, noting he plans to fill three vacancies as early as next week, with national chains.
About three of the mall”s spaces, including the old Piccadilly restaurant,are not very marketable, Williams said.
“It was vacant when (Security National Properties) purchased the mall (five to six years ago),” Williams said. “Just being it”s on the back of the mall, and most retailers, especially restaurants, want to be on the front of 45.”
Even without an influx of national brands, Columbus has been able to reuse many of its old buildings.
“The good thing about Columbus is you”ve got these national chains here, but you”ve also got a lot of entrepreneurs, who are willing to take these older buildings and renovate them and use them,” Lathan said.
Examples include Gloria Herriott (Holly Hocks), Chris Chain (Huck”s Place), Mark Castleberry (Former Walmart and Blockbuster stores), Lex Jackson (Jackson Square, formerly Kroger), Peggy Strauss (Café on Main) and Malco Theatre (formerly Lowe”s).
And “if you go to any other town the size of Columbus, you”re probably going to find more (empty buildings),” Lathan said, adding they can be both an advantage and a drawback.
“In a way, it”s an advantage because we have a great variety to hopefully meet anybody”s needs,” she said. “The downside is, if a prospective site sits too long, they start to age, then it makes the town look unkept.”
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