New Owner Details Plans for Boardman Center Plaza

BOARDMAN TOWNSHIP, Ohio – Positioned at the heart of Boardman’s sprawling commercial district, Boardman Center Plaza should be a more successful property than it is, according to its new owner, Tom Punjwani.

He aims to change that.

“When I looked at the center, I just fell in love with this location,” he said.

Punjwani, who is based in Texas, said he has a $60 million portfolio of properties – which he owns solely or in partnerships – primarily in that state, as well as in Ohio and New York.  

Boardman Center LLC, a limited liability company the Texas-based real estate investor and developer formed, acquired the plaza in April for $4.5 million. He said he searches for assets that are physically or financially distressed, acquires them and works with local real estate agents and teams to re-tenant the properties.

“So I found this opportunity. I looked at the traffic count. Everything was excellent,” he said. The center was even getting “a good amount of interest” from a mix of potential tenants. With some reinvestment in the property, he said he saw no reason national tenants wouldn’t be interested. His goal for such properties is to have about 60% national and regional tenants, and the remainder local tenants.

The plaza is located on the west side of Market Street, south of U.S. Route 224 and across from Southern Park Mall. On a daily basis, 24,000 vehicles drive north and south through the Market Street-Route 224 intersection, and 38,000 drive east and west through it, reported Don Thomas, owner/partner at Platz Realty Group, who is working with Punjwani to re-tenant the property.   

Roughly half of the 136,000-square-foot plaza is vacant, Punjwani said. Its tenants include Rick’s Boot Factory Outlet, Harbor Pets, Guitar Center and Legends Food & Drink. A Spirit Halloween store is temporarily using the space once occupied by Murphy’s Mart, which later became an Ames Department Store, and more recently JoAnn Fabrics & Crafts.  

Punjwani acknowledged that he expected that within his first six months of ownership he would have “at least four or five” sets of eyes on the center. That hasn’t been the case so far. He dismissed the notion that economic worries are responsible and pointed to strong interest in properties he owns in other markets.   

He also pointed to the interest in the market by national operations. “I know that a lot of places are around here, but look at how cluttered they are on the street,” he said. He has never seen a Home Depot open in a location such as the one in Boardman, with its “difficult” ingress and egress.  

“So why not this shopping center? We’ve got good space here. We’ve got good traffic. I’ve got a presence on a major intersection, one of the highest in Ohio traffic-wise,” he said. He offered the example of a center he acquired in Texas that was about 40% occupied. He built occupancy to 80%, and a video store chain that was going to occupy the vacant purchased it for triple what he paid for it.   

Part of Punjwani’s approach for the plaza will involve creating a second set of storefronts on the west-facing, backside of the property, space historically used by retail tenants to store inventory. Now the trend is for keeping less merchandise in stock, at least in as large amounts as when Boardman Center and other similar plazas were built. Spaces such as the one formerly occupied by JoAnn Fabrics & Crafts likely will be subdivided for multiple tenants rather than occupied by a similar single retailer.   

“The chances are slim to none because of the current economic conditions, you know, and big retailers are not interested in opening bigger stores now,” Punjwani said. He plans to spend about $600,000 to upgrade the property.

“Large retail is not swinging the bat very hard,” Thomas remarked. “When you reduce that square footage, it really opens up the options.”

The backside spaces would be attractive to tenants such as day care centers that don’t require the frontage and visibility that retail and restaurant tenants need, Punjwani said. He can charge at least $5 or $6 per square foot, in contrast with the $10 to $15 he can seek for the more visible space.

“So per square feet, I can generate more income out of it,” he said. The growing service sector represents another potential source of tenants. Another possible use for vacant space could be an indoor pickleball court.

Punjwani and Thomas said they are close to signing a tenant for a 16,000-square-foot space, just under a third of the space that’s now unleased.  

“It’s exciting because it’s a venerable brand,” Thomas said. It will bring “a lot of good traffic to the center, which is always something that those kinds of places need.”

Even if the population is stable – not “outrageous growth, but steady” – people still need new places to eat and shop, and new services, Punjwani said.

“I have very good faith that this is going to go,” he said. “Some properties are just slow.”

Pictured at top: Tom Punjwani, owner of Boardman Center Plaza.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.