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Shopping center's future in doubt again

The recent closing of Prime's Cafeteria at City West Commons has residents concerned about the shopping center's future – again.

Occupancy at the five-year-old center, developed to spark revitalization on West Boulevard, has fallen to about 64 percent, according to a leasing agent.

With Prime's 5,362-square-foot space locked, most of the anchor tenants are gone. And a weak economy is dimming hopes that conditions will improve in the near future.

“Whatever can be done to hold this shopping center together, we want to do it,” said Dorothy Waddy, president of the West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition, which represents about 17 communities.

The federal government seized City West Common's predecessor, Westover Shopping Center, after a drug raid in the early 1990s.

The aging property was vacant for 10 years and helped perpetuate an image of a tough neighborhood that struggled with crime.

Change finally came when the city acquired the property and Charlotte Mecklenburg Development Corp., a nonprofit, agreed to lead a redevelopment effort that was successful as a catalyst for other new development along West Boulevard.

Family Dollar, still an anchor tenant, opened at the center in July 2003. Jack in the Box restaurant and a district office for Charlotte-Mecklenburg police also are among the original tenants.

The building is among the most modern retail spaces on the West Boulevard corridor, and neighbors want occupancy to reflect that.

“We want them to get those spaces leased,” said Harriette Mahoney, a Reid Park resident and chair of the City West Community Development Corp.

Retaining tenants and leasing space are challenging.

Dave and Fran's Rotisserie Cafeteria opened in December 2003. By 2005, Prime's Cafeteria, a similar operation, was trying to make a go of it.

“They were going to make sure leases were affordable for the long term,” said Mike McDonald, who was majority owner at Prime's, which closed on Father's Day. “The way they were talking was at least 10 years. That's what it would take to see the center revitalized. Five years into the deal, the city sold the property. That's when the problems (keeping tenants) started.”

Repeated calls to the Charlotte Mecklenburg Development Corp. were not returned over three days.

McDonald said he and his partners didn't try to renew their three-year lease, which expired in June, mostly because tenants that helped generate traffic are no longer there, including Simply Fashions, Shoe Show and a dry cleaners.

More than a year ago, GameStop moved about two miles away to Wilkinson Boulevard near Wal-Mart. That led some business owners to worry that it might become harder to find tenants for City West.

Richard Marbut, a retired developer in Athens, Ga., bought the center in spring 2007. “Everybody tells me that will be an up-and-coming part of the city and property values should increase and not go down,” he said.

He said he's just as frustrated about vacancies, which are around 36 percent, according to leasing agent Josh Beaver of The Nichols Company.

“I think it parallels the economy in general,” Marbut said. “We're doing everything we can to get it re-rented. We're keeping it up as best we can. It's just a sign of the times. It has possibilities, but people are slow in making a decision (to lease).”

Residents want to begin a dialogue with Beaver and Marbut to ensure that they will be just as sensitive to their wishes in choosing tenants as the CMDC was in 2003, Mahoney said. Check-cashing operations and stores that sell alcohol would not be considered suitable, residents say.

“It's going to end up just like it was before if we're not careful,” Mahoney said.

The recent closing of Prime's Cafeteria at City West Commons has residents concerned about the shopping center's future – again.

Occupancy at the five-year-old center, developed to spark revitalization on West Boulevard, has fallen to about 64 percent, according to a leasing agent.

With Prime's 5,362-square-foot space locked, most of the anchor tenants are gone. And a weak economy is dimming hopes that conditions will improve in the near future.

“Whatever can be done to hold this shopping center together, we want to do it,” said Dorothy Waddy, president of the West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition, which represents about 17 communities.

The federal government seized City West Common's predecessor, Westover Shopping Center, after a drug raid in the early 1990s.

The aging property was vacant for 10 years and helped perpetuate an image of a tough neighborhood that struggled with crime.

Change finally came when the city acquired the property and Charlotte Mecklenburg Development Corp., a nonprofit, agreed to lead a redevelopment effort that was successful as a catalyst for other new development along West Boulevard.

Family Dollar, still an anchor tenant, opened at the center in July 2003. Jack in the Box restaurant and a district office for Charlotte-Mecklenburg police also are among the original tenants.

The building is among the most modern retail spaces on the West Boulevard corridor, and neighbors want occupancy to reflect that.

“We want them to get those spaces leased,” said Harriette Mahoney, a Reid Park resident and chair of the City West Community Development Corp.

Retaining tenants and leasing space are challenging.

Dave and Fran's Rotisserie Cafeteria opened in December 2003. By 2005, Prime's Cafeteria, a similar operation, was trying to make a go of it.

“They were going to make sure leases were affordable for the long term,” said Mike McDonald, who was majority owner at Prime's, which closed on Father's Day. “The way they were talking was at least 10 years. That's what it would take to see the center revitalized. Five years into the deal, the city sold the property. That's when the problems (keeping tenants) started.”

Repeated calls to the Charlotte Mecklenburg Development Corp. were not returned over three days.

McDonald said he and his partners didn't try to renew their three-year lease, which expired in June, mostly because tenants that helped generate traffic are no longer there, including Simply Fashions, Shoe Show and a dry cleaners.

More than a year ago, GameStop moved about two miles away to Wilkinson Boulevard near Wal-Mart. That led some business owners to worry that it might become harder to find tenants for City West.

Richard Marbut, a retired developer in Athens, Ga., bought the center in spring 2007. “Everybody tells me that will be an up-and-coming part of the city and property values should increase and not go down,” he said.

He said he's just as frustrated about vacancies, which are around 36 percent, according to leasing agent Josh Beaver of The Nichols Company.

“I think it parallels the economy in general,” Marbut said. “We're doing everything we can to get it re-rented. We're keeping it up as best we can. It's just a sign of the times. It has possibilities, but people are slow in making a decision (to lease).”

Residents want to begin a dialogue with Beaver and Marbut to ensure that they will be just as sensitive to their wishes in choosing tenants as the CMDC was in 2003, Mahoney said. Check-cashing operations and stores that sell alcohol would not be considered suitable, residents say.

“It's going to end up just like it was before if we're not careful,” Mahoney said.

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