oakwood foes ask, 'do we really need another mall?'

When it comes to retail, how much is too much? That's the question being raised by residents who live near the former Oakwood Country Club, a 154-acre parcel where First Interstate Properties proposes to build a shopping mall that would rival nearby Legacy Village in size.

"There are moribund, vacant retail areas all over the Heights, so why do we need another mall?" asks Fran Mentch, president of the Severance Neighborhood Organization (SNO), a Cleveland Heights-based neighborhood group. "It would be one thing if the project added value, but this would only hurt existing stores."

Oakwood Commons, as the proposal is being called, would be a mixed-use lifestyle center on Warrensville Center Road. The retail portion of the development would be 63 acres and include a mixture of large big-box stores, smaller shops and restaurants. The developer also wants to preserve nearly half of the property by giving it to Cleveland Heights and South Euclid to use as park land.

"This densely populated area is underserved by national retailers," counters First Interstate president Mitchell Schneider, "and there is more demand than can be accommodated by University Square, Severance and Cedar Center." His development would include stores that are new to the area. And because "investment begets investment," he explains, it would also lead to improvements in older retail areas.

According to a 2007 study completed by professor James Kastelic of Cleveland State University's Levin College of Urban Affairs, Northeast Ohio has a retail surplus of just over 22 million square feet. Between 2000 and 2007, the study shows, Cuyahoga County's population declined by 6% while its retail space grew by 5%.

According to Kastelic, a Senior Park Planner with the Cleveland Metroparks, new retail could only be successful by luring customers from existing areas. Because the region is not growing, he stresses, "It would cut the pie into more pieces" rather than add value.

Schneider takes issue with Kastelic's study. "Much of that retail is functionally obsolescent," he says. "When it comes to national retailers, Northeast Ohio is not over-retailed. We have fewer square feet per capita than many other metro areas."

Source: Fran Mentch; James Kastelic
Writer: Lee Chilcote
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