Industrial park pitched for Monroe mall site

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

The five mall tenants — including Gap Outlet and Motor City Fireworks — are expected to continue their leases and be consolidated into a 34,000-square-foot building at the site.

Amid a retail landscape where online competition sinks sales at brick-and-mortar stores, the manager of the struggling Monroe Factory Shops is hoping to rezone the site as light industrial to create a "shovel-ready" parcel in a bid to spark redevelopment.

The court-appointed receiver of the 22-acre property comprising the mall has put the property on the market for $1.1 million and solicited bids to demolish two of the mall's three buildings on a 175-acre site county officials are eyeing for rezoning.

The site includes 76 acres known as a former nursery.

The move to rezone the acreage comes as outlet malls in the U.S. struggle with fewer retail tenants and a shrinking customer base. The Monroe spot is among four in the region.

Monroe County officials hope to keep a strip of commercial office and retail use while creating the light industrial park near Interstate 75. Officials see the area as an access point for light industrial companies serving the Detroit and Toledo markets.

"It would be a great location for businesses to locate there," said Tim Lake, president and CEO of the Monroe County Business Development Corp. "With the new international bridge crossing (to Canada) coming, we think traffic is going to pick up in that area."

Lake acknowledged the outlet mall has struggled in the last few years and lost tenants.

"That particular corridor is a transportation corridor. It's not really perceived as (a) retail corridor," he said, adding that "with personal online shopping becoming more popular, brick-and-mortar operations are struggling all over. The plan here is to try to attract folks who are service-oriented."

The five mall tenants — including a Gap outlet and Motor City Fireworks — are expected to continue their leases and be consolidated into a 34,000-square-foot building at the tip of the mall's triangular parcel on LaPlaisance Road in Monroe Charter Township, said Marc Berry, project director at Amicus Management Inc.

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The Grand Rapids-based firm typically oversees struggling properties.

A formal rezoning request to allow for manufacturing and warehouse and distribution operations has not yet been made and likely would come from a prospective buyer, Berry said. "Any manufacturer or distribution business would be a perfect fit for that area. For a light-industrial business to come in there, it would create so many jobs. ... It's basically going to be a shovel-ready industrial area."

Meanwhile, Monroe Bank & Trust is expected this month to auction about 77 acres zoned retail and commercial in the Harwood Plaza area north of the Monroe Factory Shops, according to a release from Amicus.

In a statement Thursday, Monroe Charter Township Supervisor Alan Barron said, "We are excited about the possibilities for the site. The rezoning has wide support with our trustees."

Monroe has faced economic woes in recent years and the outlet mall likely was affected by "too much competition," said Ken Dalto, a management consultant and local retail analyst. The push to redevelop the property, he said, is a way to revive the area and boost its tax base.

"If they get who they want to get in there, then it's going to be good for Monroe," Dalto said. "It employs people and it revitalizes an area."