Company News

Real Estate Brokers Renovate, Repurpose Commercial Sites

BOARDMAN, Ohio — Antiquated and dated until recently, the Tiffany Square Plaza at South Avenue and U.S. Route 224 in Boardman has a new lease on life, broker Bill Kutlick says.

Over the past several months, the renovated plaza has seen retailers that include Hobby Lobby – relocated from a couple miles west on 224 – and Fin Feather Fur, a retailer new to the Mahoning Valley, join its tenant mix. More recently, Marshalls, another retailer not yet in the market, announced it would open a store later this year in the strip plaza.

“Today it looks like brand-new construction from the ground up,” says Kutlick, owner of Kutlick Realty LLC, Boardman. He is working with two national firms interested in becoming tenants at the center, he says.

“We renovated that property and that is probably by far the best example of what was a problem property [because it was] based on a 1960 design,” Kutlick says. Having imagination and creativity, “working with the right group of people” and knowing the market, he says, resulted in the transformation.

“The community sees it. They see how a property can be turned around with new lighting and landscaping.”

The plaza is but one example of properties – some prime locations in and around the Mahoning Valley – that have presented challenges to commercial real estate agents and brokers such as Kutlick.

Then there are the “extremely well- positioned” buildings that have gone through what Kutlick terms “functional obsolescence.” Among them was the old Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips across from the Southern Park Mall in Boardman, a problem property in a “very good location,’ he recalls. That restaurant was razed, a Five Guys Burgers and Fries built in its place.

A property in a similar situation, on the market two years, was the closed A&W restaurant at Route 224 and West Boulevard, Kutlick says. “The location was right but we put a today’s use there [an Advance Auto Parts store], knocked the building down and built a brand-new building,” he says.

Another commercial property challenged the real estate professional who handled, the former Putt-Putt miniature golf course, is just across South Avenue from Tiffany Square. It had opened in the 1960s. Addressing that site, where National Tire and Battery is building a new store, took “a lot of finesse and time,” remarks Jim Grantz, broker associate with Edward J. Lewis Inc., Youngstown. National Tire is relocating from Tiffany Square.

One issue was Putt-Putt’s lack of a sewer or septic system, he recalls. The only way to get a sanitary line was negotiating with the neighbors reluctant to provide the access to a potential competitor. “At the end of the day we were able to negotiate an easement with Taco Bell,” he says.

A further complication was access to and from South Avenue, which was limited to a right-turn in and a right-turn out.

“To deal with that obstacle took a lot of negotiation with the people that owned the Gabriel Bros. real estate,” he says. That issue had scotched an earlier deal with a retailer who considered the site where Gabriel opened competition, he adds.

Another property Grantz represented is the former 7Up building. The property on Meridian Road had a tenant in a long-term lease that engaged Grantz to sublease the space when the tenant left.

“What occurred is someone wanted the space but only wanted to buy it,” he says. That necessitated negotiating a buyout with the tenant so the landlord could sell the building. “It’s going to be a new location for Youngstown Electric Supply,” he says.

Sometimes, brokers and agents encounter unanticipated issues beneath the surface – literally – or just a bit above.

John Horvath, broker associate with commercial services at Northwood Realty Services, Poland, has been doing site acquisitions for the Dollar General chain the last 15 years in northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania. He was charged with finding a 1.5-acre site as close to the center of Bristolville as possible.

“We found them a site just south of the center of town,” he recalls. “It was a hilly site” with a change in elevation of about 10 feet from the rear to the front of the property. The site also had a gas line that had to be rerouted.

During the environmental engineering work came the discovery of “what were considered wetlands” because of the soil and vegetation on the side of the hill, Horvath adds.

“On top of that, there were some trees on the property,” specifically trees that, because two species of bats nest there, could be cut down only between Oct. 1 and March 31, he says. More property had to be acquired to accommodate a septic system.

“It’s ongoing,” Horvath says of the project. “We expect to close by the end of the summer.”

Utility issues have presented hurdles for current and upcoming projects in Lordstown such as Matalco Inc.’s $100 million plant under construction at Ohio Commerce Center, points out broker Dan Crouse with Routh-Hurlbert Real Estate in Warren.

“It looked like, and it is obviously shovel-ready property,” Crouse says.

The first hurdle was the lack of gas in the line that serves the plant. “A multimillion-dollar gas line is being installed right now,” Crouse says.

To complicate matters further, FirstEnergy officials informed Routh-Hurlbert professionals that the utility’s distribution network in Lordstown is “maxed out” by the current and prospective development, Crouse says.

“They were barely able to service Matalco. That just blew us away,” he remarks. “We applaud them for coming forward.” With a substation not a mile from the commerce center, however, “to know there wasn’t adequate distribution lines was really a surprise to everybody,” he says.

The issue was resolved through a “creative adjustment” in the power distribution center “but we were put on notice that any further development would require at least a year’s worth of work to improve infrastructure,” he continues.

Crouse and fellow broker Chuck Joseph have identified a 22-mile railroad for which the owner is “more than willing to put power lines on,” avoiding the “nightmare” of having to negotiate with 25 different owners to secure rights-of-way, Crouse says.

“So it’s kind of a cool solution to the problem,” he says. “If not, the commerce center would be absolutely stymied from any real substantial further development.”

Pictured: Bill Kutlick says the renovation of Tiffany Square in Boardman “looks like brand-new construction from the ground up.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.