ELYRIA, Ohio — The revitalization of Elyria’s long-declining Midway Mall is being re-energized by the prospect of new ownership. Thursday, the Lorain County Port Authority voted to accept a $13.9 million loan from the county commission to buy the property.
“I think today is a huge step in the right direction,” Elyria Mayor Frank Whitfield told News 5.
For years, the mall has been down on its luck, as customers left for online and competing shopping centers and retail shops vacated the property.
“I have some customers come, very sad because the mall - it was so busy. And they wish more [stores] would open again because there’s no other mall in this area,” said Hanan Beniaman of Perfect Eyebrows.
The beauty shop is one of a handful still remaining inside the mall. As it’s grown increasingly empty, stores and businesses are growing less confident about the future of retail at the site.
“Even when I came in here the first time to get my eyebrows done, I couldn’t even tell if there was going to be a store because there’s nothing here. There’s no people, there’s no nothing,” said Hannah Lopez, a customer at Perfect Eyebrows.
In 2016, the mall was losing so much money each year that the city commissioned a study to pinpoint how to attract a developer to transform the shopping experience. Stakeholders eventually pivoted from retail to other economic drivers.
“Retail has changed and there are so many more economic opportunities out there that we need to be looking at, the growth sectors of our state,” Mayor Whitfield said.
In spring 2022, city leaders backed a plan to move away from retail. It proposed transforming the 700,000-square-foot space into a health and light industrial park.
Whitfield said he’s a proponent of any development that will bring good-paying jobs to the city. The Lorain County Port Authority has not narrowed down plans for redevelopment yet.
“All things are on the table. There’s been different things suggested. We’re going to take a look at it and see what makes the best sense for the city of Elyria and for Lorain County,” said Lorain County Port Authority Director Jim Miller.
The Port Authority Board voted unanimously to accept $13.9 million from the Lorain County general fund Thursday. County commissioners pre-approved the loan in December and approved the resolution on Monday.
Whitfield explained having multiple owners of the mall has made it difficult. He hopes a single owner, the Port Authority, will make the property more attractive to developers.
“One of the big obstacles was getting that shared ownership [to agree]. Now we’re in a better position to be able to negotiate and get the site redeveloped,” he said.
Miller explained the Port Authority already has a purchase agreement in place with both of the current owners. He expects to close the sale by the end of January.
“It’s close to Interstate 90, Interstate 80. So many cars pass through that corridor every day. And this is right there, what they see first, when they come into Lorain County. And we want it to be something that we’re proud of,” Miller said.
The mayor said the city of Elyria and the Port Authority will work with existing retailers if development plans call for them to relocate.
“We’re going to work with the Port Authority and work with every resource we have as well to help those folks, whatever decision is made, and help them hopefully stay in the city of Elyria and continue to do business in the city - whether it’s at that site, or at an adjacent site, somewhere downtown in the city or somewhere else,” he said.
Some would prefer retail to continue occupying the space in the future. Beniaman said she’s confident the shop could relocate if necessary and believes any investment would be good for the region.
“Whatever’s good for the area, it’s ok,” she said.
Miller expects the sale to close by January 27. He said he’s already heard interest about the property, but cautions not to expect an instant transformation.
Watch live and local news any time:
Download the News 5 Cleveland app now for more stories from us, plus alerts on major news, the latest weather forecast, traffic information and much more. Download now on your Apple device here, and your Android device here.