CLEVELAND — A series of shuttered storefronts, including a former K-Mart store, may soon give way to a new, sorely-needed retail development in the heart of Cleveland's West Park Neighborhood. The city's planning commission granted schematic approval on Friday to a New York-based developer's plan to re-use and redevelop the former K-Mart site at West 150th and Lorain.
TLM Realty, the owner of the property, has proposed a renovation and re-use of the former big box retail location and split it into three new national retailers that want to open new locations. Across the sea of concrete on the eastern edge of the property, a strip center would be demolished to make way for a restaurant and grocery store. The planning commission approved the strip center's demolition as well as the demolition of the 1920s-era Marquard building that sits on the northern edge of the property, bordering Lorain Ave.
"It's a very important project for Ward 17 and West Park," said Ward 17 Councilman Charles Slife. "Quite honestly, 'what's the future of the K-Mart plaza?' is the question that I field the most when talking with residents, business owners and stakeholders. There's been a lot of interest in this."
TLM's senior vice president of leasing and development, Michael Oestrich, said the highly-traveled intersection of West 150th and Lorain, as well as the sprawling residential areas around the site, make it prime for retail. After initial feedback from the neighborhood and various stakeholders, the proposal was altered to accommodate a large pedestrian walkway from the bus stop on Lorain Avenue to the heart of the shopping center.
"We're experienced with property development. We've done several redevelopment projects with former K-Marts across the country," Oestrich told members of the planning commission.
A 2019 study done by CSU's Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs and the Viking Group found the area around the proposed development to be a large mix of low-to-moderate and high-income earners. The neighborhood also features a high number of individuals that either walk or use public transit to run routine errands. Once the K-Mart closed in 2017, a large void was created in available retail amenities.
"I miss K-Mart being right here. It was one of the best, most convenient things," said George Lipscomb, who lives a few blocks from the shuttered shopping center. "Everything is in walking distance in this area. We used to have the Family Dollar down here but it's closed now. It was easy and convenient to get your toiletries and everything. Now you have to walk a little farther to Walgreens or all the way down to Marc's."
The 2019 study found the closest available retail location for groceries and other small items was roughly a mile away, despite West 150th and Lorain being one of the busier intersections on the West Side.
"There is a lot of excitement about this corner being redeveloped. [Neighbors] want to see retail. They want to see a grocery store," Councilman Slife said. "The feedback from residents has been overwhelmingly positive."
The planning commission also approved the demolition of the Marquard Building, despite the last-ditch attempts by some in the neighborhood to have the building preserved. Oestrich told commission members that if the building could not be demolished, the grocery store would have to be built closer to the road and, possibly, the company interested in the space may decide to pull out. If that were to happen, Oestrich said the entire development may be in jeopardy.
"We are paying homage to the Marquard by salvaging the keystone and the plaque," Oestrich said. "Where this building stands, we're incorporating into the site and working with the CDC to have some public art space."
Councilman Slife said the proposed development offers both what the area wants and needs.
"What feels like a vacant, blighted corner is really an indictment of K-Mart. After so many years of it being vacant, you start to take it personally and wonder if it's something about the neighborhood," Slife said. "What we're seeing is that there is ability to bring in national retailers into West Park and that this is a desirable place to invest. It's a high traffic intersection. There is great transit access that's improving with RTA's next generation. There are a lot of wins here."