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Eastland Center to be razed to make way for industrial site

Alex Harring
The Detroit News

Harper Woods — The long-troubled Eastland Center shopping mall will be razed and replaced by an industrial site with 250 construction jobs and 560 permanent jobs, Mayor Valerie Kindle and NorthPoint Development said Thursday.

The announcement comes after years of decline for the mall as stores left amid the e-commerce boom and changing consumer preferences. Eastland has also been the site of shootings in recent years.

Harper Woods Mayor Valerie Kindle speaks during a press conference, in Harper Woods, June 24, 2021, to announce the proposed demolition of Eastland Center to be replaced by a distribution center.

NorthPoint is under contract — but has not yet closed — to build three industrial buildings in place of the mall, totaling approximately 1 million square feet. There is no tenant signed on to occupy the buildings upon completion, but NorthPoint officials said their reputation and relationships will help ensure they will find occupants.

“Our history and our track record has proven that as we go through the construction process and the relationships we have with other tenants that we feel confident we will lease the property by the time construction is complete,” said Tim Conder, vice president of acquisitions.

The largest of the three buildings will be 514,000 square feet, while the second and third will be 310,000 square feet and 207,000 square feet, according to a site plan obtained by The Detroit News from the city. The landscape plan reports the three buildings will have 316, 299 and 208 parking spots, respectively.

Conder said NorthPoint is tentatively looking at an October approval from the city for its plans but would continue operating the mall through the holiday season. Construction is expected to start in January, Conder said.

NorthPoint intends to pursue an industrial facilities tax exemption for the project, Conder said.

'Win-win for everybody'

Eastland is a particularly strong site for industrial use because of its proximity to highways, including Interstate 94, according to Conder.

The mall's location within Metro Detroit makes it a good spot for an industrial site as retail continues its nosedive while manufacturing and e-commerce continue to rise, according to Doug Fura, senior vice president of the Southfield real estate firm Farbman Group. With more promises of same-day or next-day shipping, Fura said industry giants will need locations within population-dense places to meet those shipping goals. 

"It's really a win-win for everybody at this point in time," he said, noting that the city will garner tax revenue with tenants on the land and businesses will have an industrial site within the regional population hub.

In additional to providing real-estate tax revenue, Fura said building a site where there is empty storefronts will bring in higher-paying jobs. He expects manufacturing and e-commerce to continue to grow over the next decade.

'So much good'

Beyond the boarded-up former Macy’s, many of Eastland’s storefronts remain empty. The mall was considered a new avenue to help Harper Woods prosper when it was first built, said former Mayor Kenneth Poynter, who resigned in 2020.

“I was here on the opening day, and there was so much energy and excitement and enthusiasm in the air, and it was really a boom for Harper Woods and surrounding communities,” said Poynter, who attended Thursday's announcement. “Then, unfortunately, it hit upon bad times, and stores started leaving.”

Shoppers walk through Eastland Center, in Harper Woods, June 24, 2021.

“Now, however, as soon as I got out of my car, I could feel this sense of enthusiasm as rekindling itself,” he continued.

Over time, the city tried to keep the mall alive with big retailers like Macy’s and Target —  which left in 2017 and 2018, respectively — inside, Kindle said. But the owner did not make infrastructure upgrades and it became impossible to save, she said. The mall has also been the location of shootings, including incidents in 2015 and 2020.

Harper Woods Mayor Valerie Kindle, left, hugs Tim Conder, the Vice President of Northpoint Development, during a press conference, in Harper Woods, June 24, 2021, to announce the proposed demolition of Eastland Center to be replaced by a distribution center.

CW Capital auctioned much of the mall through the Farbman Group in 2018. It included about 640,000 square feet of the mall's 1.4 million square feet of space, The News reported at the time.

While acknowledging it is hard to let go of the mall, Kindle said that the industrial site is a step in the right direction. She called NorthPoint’s development plans a “godsend” that will boost jobs and economic opportunity in the city.

“We’re embarking upon a great partnership to move forward, to move Harper Woods forward, and to do the best thing we can for our citizens,” Kindle said. “So much good is going to come out of this. We haven’t even realized all the good that will be coming forward.”