Plenty of development possible

ALPENA – The temperature may be cold outside, but interest in Alpena from potential developers is hot. Building on the momentum started by Meijer, which will build a superstore on M-32 beginning this spring, other companies have taken notice and have begun to take steps of there own.

Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Director Jim Klarich said the harsh winter may have taken its toll on Alpena residents, but not the potential investors considering opening up stores in the area. Klarich said there is significant interest not only along the M-32 corridor, but also in the city and US-23 South.

“Things are hot right now, and winter hasn’t slowed things up. We are still getting on average during the winter about three tours a week … to prospective clients,” Klarich said. “There is obviously retail, hospitality, restaurants, as well as national big box retailers who have expressed interest, or we have provided tours to. As far as where they are at in terms of their investigations though? I can’t speak to that.”

The Alpena Mall is also in the middle of what appears to be a rebirth. Since new owner Brian Winter took over operational control he has been trying to lure new businesses into the mall, and upgrading the mall to make it more appealing for potential developers. He said the mall is in the process of adding several new stores, including a national chain.

Winter said Dunham’s is moving from the Bear Point Shopping Center to the mall property. He said the new store is going to be much larger than the current one and offer indoor and outdoor sports enthusiasts a much broader selection to choose from. Winter said the store will be a stand-alone store at the mall, similar to what Gordon Foods is. He said the current Dunham’s is about 13,000 square feet, but the new one in the mall will be about 30,000. Winter said he in encouraged by the interest thus far and is working hard to find the proper space in the mall to fit developers’ needs.

“There are stores looking at the mall, but there are certain types of spaces they want and if we don’t have them, we are working hard to create them, so they meet the company’s criteria,” Winter said. “We are also trying to update the property to make it more desirable for current and future tenants.”

Winter said the mall is appealing to some national chains and smaller companies, because it takes less of an initial investment up front. He said they often look to utilize existing structures and pass on building new ones.

“Pretty much any developer who wants to be out M-32 will have to build from the ground up and it is very costly for them to start from scratch,” Winter said. “I know some that can’t justify a new building, but they can being in the mall, or other buildings on US-23 South. We have an abundance of available options out there.”

For years large malls with dozens, if not hundreds of stores, were very popular. Winter said that isn’t necessary the case any more and that new malls are rarely built. He said besides having great shopping options at the Alpena Mall, he wants there to be a sense of community and attractions that will make people want to visit and shop.

“We are going to have events and continue to plan events. There will be boat shows, fundraisers for nonprofit groups and vendors,” Winter said. “That is becoming a new factor in economic development. You want to try to give the people a reason to be there besides shopping.”

Klarich said there is a lot of excitement in Alpena, as people wait for official announcements on some of the development projects in the works. He said he hears many rumors, but won’t elaborate on which have merit and which don’t. He said rumors are a part of his job and joked about them at the recent chamber dinner.

“It is fun being in my position, because of the rumors and I start most of them,” Klarich said. “Business rumors in Alpena are like boomerangs, but a bit more fun. One day I can throw out an Olive Garden and three days later it will return to me as a Red Lobster. There is always a lot in the rumor mill flying around, but I’m glad people are excited, because I think there is a lot to be excited about.”

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review … at www.thealpenanews.com.