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City West has room to deal

Small-business owners: City West Commons shopping center could have a special deal for you.

The West Boulevard retail center's owner, Richard Marbut, said Tuesday he is willing to offer financial incentives in an effort to fill vacant space at the 5-year-old property.

To make the announcement, Marbut stood with city officials, police and the center's tenants, all gathered by a neighborhood leader who hopes they will work together to find new strategies for promoting the property.

West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition President Dorothy Waddy said a sluggish economy and competition from other shopping centers are pushing occupancy at City West Commons in the wrong direction.

“The real estate business isn't the best right now,” Waddy told the group of about 22 gathered in a vacant storefront. “I don't think we can accept that and say there's nothing we can do.”

City West Commons stands at a site that once housed Westover Shopping Center, which the federal government seized after a drug raid in the early 1990s.

The city of Charlotte acquired the property, but it sat vacant for 10 years. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Development Corp., a nonprofit organization, agreed to help build a new retail center at the site.

The new 44,000-square-foot center was successful, with Family Dollar, Jack in the Box and the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department among its tenants.

But Marbut said tenants began to leave soon after he bought the property in spring 2007.

A few tenants have migrated to a retail development at Wilkinson Boulevard and Ashley Road that has Wal-Mart as an anchor tenant. Others simply closed.

Today the vacancy rate is about 38 percent, said property manager W. Steven Banner of NAI Southern Real Estate.

Marbut said the problem is not specific to City West Commons but many commercial properties. He declined to discuss specific incentives.

Leasing agent Josh Beaver said leasing efforts will be directed at small businesses.

“We're going to offer incentives that are nowhere else,” he said.

The crowd was most excited to learn that a Barack Obama campaign team has a short-term lease.

Others suggested a broader approach will be needed that focuses on revitalizing the properties surrounding the center, located at West Boulevard and Remount Road.

“It can't be there alone by itself,” said Reid Park resident Ricky Hall. “It has to be a larger input to better support a recruitment strategy for tenants.”

Everyone agreed they should emphasize the positives. A decrease in crime is one of those, said Gerald Smith, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police response area commander for the Westover Division.

Auto thefts, assaults, break-ins and similar crimes are down 38 percent along the West Boulevard corridor for the third quarter of 2008 compared to last year, said police commander Andy Harris.

“Crime statistics for the West Boulevard corridor are the envy of a lot of neighborhoods in the city,” Smith said. “It is a good place to be.”