Westland Mall owner shares demolition plans, sees housing, retail, other uses ahead

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The Columbus Dispatch

The owner of the long-closed Westland Mall plans to begin demolishing the site in June and be finished in six-to-eight months.

What replaces the mall could be anything from multi-family housing to retail to hospitality to an industrial use, said Alex Ruben, manager of Columbus-based Plaza Properties, which controls the site under a limited liability company.

“We believe the site is not going to be one single user,” Ruben said.

Once everything is down, a vision of what the site could become will be clearer, Ruben said. Local and national companies have already expressed interest, he said.

“We’ve had a lot of discussions,” Ruben said.

“There are a lot of different possibilities for the site … multifamily, retail, hospitality, even industrial,” Ruben added. “We’re open to everything.”

Ruben said that while plans call for all the buildings on the 88-acre mall site along West Broad Street near Interstate 270 in Franklin Township to come down, company officials are considering saving and repurposing the former Sears store, now home to monthly gun shows that are scheduled through the end of the year.

In January, state officials announced that the state would pay for the mall’s demolition, with about $13 million from the Ohio Building Demolition and Site Revitalization Program. The Central Ohio Community Improvement Corporation — the Franklin County land bank — applied for the money on behalf of the mall.

Ruben said asbestos needs to be removed from the site, but said there are no other hazardous materials.

Jim Schimmer, Franklin County’s economic development and planning director, said he’s positive about the site’s future once the mall is down.

“That site is special throughout central Ohio, number one because of geographical and transportation location,” Schimmer said.

“Once that property, the acreage, is exposed, then people start to think about ideas,” he said.

Schimmer noted that the Central Ohio Transit Authority plan for a bus rapid transit line from Downtown along West Broad Street has a stop at the Westland Mall site and whatever occupies that ground in the future. Local officials want to connect job centers with housing, with bus rapid transit stops helping to fuel development.

Chris Haydocy, vice-president of Mark Wahlberg Airstream and RV and chairman of Weston Vision, said taking the mall down is a huge first step in getting something done at the site.

“It can be a treasure for the right owner,” said Haydocy, who for more than a decade has championed the redevelopment of the West Broad Street corridor.

“It’s a premier piece of property. Could it be light manufacturing? Could it be mixed use housing?” he said.

“We want that property to be a valuable asset for the citizens and population of the West Side,” Haydocy said. “I’d like it to be an economic driver to spur future development. What it’s going to be we don’t know.”

Haydocy said he knows the mall is an eyesore and a bad first impression for newcomers to the area.

“Westland Mall essentially sat vacant for 15 years,” Haydocy said.

“Once it’s torn down it’s infinitely better than what we currently have,” he said.

Westland opened in 1969 as an open air mall and was enclosed in 1982. For years, it thrived as a West Side anchor, but struggled after the Mall at Tuttle Crossing opened in 1997.

In 2007, the Westland Macy’s closed, starting a trickle of closings that ended in all of the mall closing in 2012 except for the Sears store, which remained open until September 2017.

Ruben is ready to move forward. He said Columbus is a city on the upswing, with more people coming to the area: The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission estimates Greater Columbus will have 3.15-million residents by 2050. He also sees a bright future for that part of western Franklin County, a 10-minute drive from Downtown and 10-15 minutes from Dublin down I-270.

“It’s an exciting time,” Ruben said. “We look forward to whatever happens out there.”