City examining new uses for old retail sites SanTan Sun News

City examining new uses for old retail sites

September 28th, 2021 SanTan Sun News
City examining new uses for old retail sites
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By Ken Sain, Staff Writer

Michael Pollack owns a large number of retail centers in the city, many of which bear his name.

He has some ideas on what the city needs to do with the Alma School and Warner roads intersection – specifically, the former Fry’s grocery store on the northeast corner.

“There’s only one answer,” Pollack said last week. “There’s nobody stupid enough to put a grocery store next to Walmart. That part of the center needs to come down.”

Fry’s took over that location when Kroger bought Smith’s in 2004 even though it has a successful location only a mile away at Alma School and Elliot roads.

At one time the Alma-Warner road intersection had a third supermarket, Smitty’s, across Warner from the Frys and Walmart.

“We need more shoppers, not more shops,” Pollack said.

Chandler is moving in that direction, says Micah Miranda, the city’s economic development director.

“The 101 dramatically shifted transportation in Chandler,” Miranda said, pointing out retailers want to be on major routes.

Before the Price Road Loop 101 opened in Chandler, that meant roads like Arizona Avenue or Chandler Boulevard.

“Retailers need eyeballs, and the eyeballs are on the transportation corridors,” Miranda said.

Now, retailers are moving next to the Loop 101, forcing the city to figure out what to do with the buildings left behind.

Officials have started looking for alternatives to retail.

One example of this philosophy was turning that old Smitty’s grocery store into the Great Hearts Academy.

Then there is the multi-family housing complex on a lot next to Home Depot on Chandler Boulevard that once housed a Krispy Kreme.

Another example is the new Mox Boarding House scheduled to open in January at Alma School and Knox roads. It was previously home to the Iguana Macks and Social Box restaurants. Mox is a Seattle restaurant concept that offers food and drink along with board games for use inside or purchase.

Ryan Kaup, a city economic development specialist, said that just south of the new Mox Boarding House, the former Dos Gringos restaurant is being converted into a medical center.

“We started looking ahead to the future, what can we do?” Miranda said. “We’re working proactively to take large, big-box retail off the market and repurpose it. We’ve seen some success.”

Miranda said that replacing the former Fry’s store at Alma School and Warner continues to be a priority, but that its location in the same center as a Walmart limits options.

That’s why Pollack says the best idea is to turn the space into housing, providing more consumers for the businesses around that intersection, which includes his.

“We need more housing, quality density, that’s the key,” he said. “It’s all about reinvention instead of boarded-up buildings.”

The city’s vacancy rate for retail businesses remains near historic lows. It’s currently at 6.5 percent. The five-year average rate is 7.4 percent. That’s despite the economic damage caused by the pandemic.

“I will give the government credit for helping small businesses,” Pollack said. “I have more than a thousand tenants, and about 70 percent of them are small businesses.”

He said the stimulus money the government handed out in loans and grants helped keep many businesses afloat until shoppers felt safe leaving their homes.

Miranda said this is a smart direction for the city.

“As we approach buildout, we want to ensure every area of the city remains safe, beautiful and economically viable,” he said. “Those are exactly the new uses that we’re really pushing, that make a lot of sense.”

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