ELYRIA, Ohio — If you’ve driven from downtown Cleveland to Elyria, chances are you’ve spotted the Midway Mall as you entered the city. The retail hub debuted in 1965 and enjoyed the heyday of shopping centers. But in more recent memory, the Lorain County mainstay has been in decline as the dawn of the digital age, a global pandemic and other factors are driving more consumers to online retailers.
“My mother worked there for almost 20 years in retail. So I watched this mall decline, I’ve watched the impact it had on my family, personally, in its decline. And we’re committed to get this mall transformed into a better use,” said Elyria Mayor Frank Whitfield.
The mayor noted several revitalization attempts in recent years have not successfully rekindled an interest in brick and mortar retail. But Whitfield is throwing his support behind another proposal unveiled during a recent city council meeting.
“We know putting a lot of investment back in retail probably isn’t the best use,” he said. “So we’re working with the developer now to repurpose the mall to be more towards light industrial uses, as well as some medical uses as well.”
Solon-based Industrial Commercial Properties (ICP) already owns some of the anchor sections of the mall and recently struck a deal with the owners of the interior section on a joint venture.
This week, ICP presented preliminary renderings of a “health and wellness and industrial innovation park” concept to city council members.
“That could include a variety of different users from office, to health and wellness, to light industrial,” said Chris Salata, the COO of ICP.
He explained the mall’s 700,000 square foot space would hold about 10 tenants. The company pointed to its success in similar endeavors, redeveloping shopping centers into light industrial, manufacturing and medical campuses in several cities across Ohio.
Salata said Midway Mall’s existing infrastructure and its position near several major highways could make it an attractive location for potential tenants.
“If you’re on the right spot on the logistics pathway, that can make all the difference in how your business runs,” he said.
Whitfield added, “It’s one of the best sites in the state and we want to make sure our business community can take advantage of it.”
He believes attracting new job-creating industries will help other nearby businesses rebound.
“That sort of ripple effect that we’re hoping it’s going to have – we know it will have – is why this is so important of a project,” the mayor said.
In an outlet adjacent to the mall, Bo Granger temporarily closed the doors at his once-thriving restaurant Uncle Bo’s Slow-N-Low BBQ.
“As inflation went up and the gas prices went up we saw less and less people coming in,” Granger said.
He explained that other neighboring restaurants have closed or relocated as the mall declined.
“It doesn’t help,” he said.
Other businesses are experiencing a similar effect.
“It’s definitely slowed a lot because a lot of the box stores have left and a lot of businesses have closed up,” said Nate Herrington, the general manager of Atlas Cinemas Midway.
Eric Balmert, the owner of B’s Car Stereo added, “Traffic is not the greatest. I think the mall is a great thing, but every time you turn around they’re taking more and more out of it.”
All three men agreed that the city of Elyria should be doing more to retain its current businesses and attract new ones. The mayor said he’s planning to offer more grants and loans with funding from the American Rescue Plan. He also said the city is developing plans to help some of the remaining stores inside the mall relocate elsewhere within the city.
“Now with this idea of total repurpose and moving away from retail, I think we’re embarking on a new journey,” Whitfield said of the city’s economic future.
For it to become reality, Elyria City Council and the Elyria Schools Board of Education will need to sign off on a 30-year, $4.5 million tax increment financing agreement. A bond issue would cover the city’s share.