Community members discuss space utilization along U.S.-31

Published April 01, 2019

By Cassandra.Bondie / @hollandsentinel.com / 616-546-4237 Posted Apr. 1, 2019 - CLICK HERE FOR FULL ARTICLE

HOLLAND TWP. — It’s easy to lose an entire afternoon shopping in the many storefronts and shopping centers along U.S.-31 in Holland Township.

In fact, the corridor accounts for approximately 67 percent of the retail value in Holland Township, according to township manager Steve Bulthuis. “I would say the U.S.-31 corridor is one of the most identifiable areas of the township,” Bulthuis said. “When people talk about Holland Township, one thing they often identify is our retail along that corridor.”

Still, a number of residents and shoppers have expressed concerns about the organization of ongoing development. New development In January, Granger Group broke ground on a new shopping center located on the southeast corner of U.S.-31 and Quincy Street. The development, called Quincy Marketplace, will center on a 106,000-square-foot Blain’s Farm & Fleet.

“Granger Group is thrilled to have acquired the commercial site now known as Quincy Marketplace,” Robbie Gleeson, project manager, said in a prepared statement. “It positions us adjacent to a host of other large retailers in the undeniably prosperous city of Holland. “Our vision for this development is to create a prime destination that provides residents with opportunities to invest in their personal and professional well-being.”

A recently updated site plan includes 15 parcels in addition to the Farm & Fleet, ranging in size from 3,200 square feet to over 70,000 square feet. The developer anticipates room for a hotel, gas station and bank — as well as numerous restaurants and retailers. Tenant names have not yet been released. While the development may boost traffic along U.S.-31 and offer a variety of new stores, residents worry that — overall — vacant space is being ignored in favor of new construction.

“New development is always good,” said Daniel Vander Wal, owner of Elite Asphalt Maintenance and lifelong local resident. “But if there’s already development that isn’t being used, why are we letting it get run down?” Mata agrees. “We already have places like Holland Town Center,” she said. “And I think it would be so nice to bring more business back to that area. We have spaces open and available and I think it’d be awesome for Holland to expand on what we already have.”

There are at least 25 empty storefronts along Holland’s U.S.-31 shopping corridor, ranging in size from 1,500 square feet to tens of thousands. Much of this vacant space is concentrated in strip malls and shopping centers, including The Shops at Westshore, Holland Town Center and North Park Plaza. The Shops at Westshore — originally Westshore Mall — was once an indoor mall, built by Bramalea Centers in 1988 with anchor stores J.C. Penney, Sears, Prange’s (which became Younkers in 1992) and Steketee’s. In 2003, Steketee’s closed. That year, the space was converted to Dunham’s Sports, which remains today. Sears closed in 2004, and the storefront remained largely empty for nearly 12 years. By 2009, Westshore Mall was over 30 percent vacant.

The problem was exacerbated by the increasing popularity of RiverTown Crossings Mall in Grandville, which opened in November 1999. “We’ve had our highs and lows,” Vander Wal said. “Prior to the mall, you relied on the beach and things like that to bring in tourists. When the mall opened, it brought a lot of attraction to the area. But when Grandville opened its mall, it took everything away.” In 2010, Westshore Mall was purchased for $7.8 million. In 2014, a local developer announced plans to “de-mall” the complex, creating an outdoor shopping mall. The only stores to remain operational throughout the reconstruction were JCPenney, Younkers, Dunham’s Sports, Buckle and GNC — while stores like Victoria’s Secret, Claire’s, Bath and Body Works and restaurant Chuck E. Cheese left Holland entirely. When reconstruction was complete, the complex was officially renamed The Shops at Westshore. In 2016, it was announced that Burlington Coat Factory would open in the space formerly occupied by Sears.

In July 2017, The Shops at Westshore lost its JCPenney location. In August 2018, Younkers closed for good. These losses dealt a heavy blow to the shopping center. Six months later, the original mall is home to just five businesses. Two empty anchor storefronts remain — each accounting for tens of thousands of square feet. A number of smaller units are vacant but covered by exterior paneling. “I think it’s all coming full circle,” said Marissa Berghorst, co-owner of EcoBuns in Holland Town Center. “We got hit hard when RiverTown Crossings opened up. Because, all of a sudden — even though we had the same chunk of stores at Westshore — shoppers from Holland were going to RiverTown. “And now Holland, as a community, is realizing that our stores are closing because we’re going elsewhere to shop. I think now, we’re having this resurgence and understanding that, if you want stores to stay in Holland, you have to shop in Holland. You have to spend your money here.”

Despite struggles to fill the original building, a number of stores and restaurants continue to thrive in four outbuildings completed during reconstruction, including Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt, Potbelly Sandwich Shop, Chipotle Mexican Grill, OrangeTheory Fitness and Charles Schwab. “We lost some big anchor stores,” Berghorst said. “But we have other stores coming in. There are a lot of really good things happening.” Bulthuis agrees. “I think, as a traveler, when you head along that route, it can accurately be described as a thriving commercial and retail corridor,” he said. “Not to say there aren’t vacancies, but overall, the health is quite good. And it’s eclectic.”

Across James Street at Holland Town Center, growth is underway, though empty storefronts remain. The center was built in the late 1980s — around the same time as Westshore Mall — under the name Manufacturers Marketplace. The recession that began in 2008 hit the center particularly hard as large businesses began to move out. In 2013, under the ownership of SugarOak Properties and the leadership of a new management team, the once-obsolete outlet mall underwent a seven-figure renovation project. But while SugarOak Properties took strides toward changing the town center narrative, a lack of prominent signage and an ingrained reputation throughout the community remained a problem.

“We still get people who call this an outlet mall,” Berghorst said. “Or people refer to it as Manufacturers Marketplace. We’re very aware of that. When Tanger Outlets went up in Byron Center, we all held our breath to see how that would affect shopping here.” In November 2017, Edwards Realty Co. purchased the complex. After nearly eighteen months of ownership, the parking lot has been resurfaced, the roofing has been redone and several new businesses have moved in. The focus of the center has also shifted. “There’s such a wide variety of landlords in Holland,” Berghorst said. “It really allows for businesses, when leases are up, to look at different properties. But we’ve been really happy here, because the town center has become a place where local businesses are coming, rather than outlet stores.” Repurposing old space Further north along U.S.-31, another sprawling complex includes Meijer and Target. The large building adjacent to Target, with stores like Dick’s Sporting Goods and HomeGoods, serves as an ideal example of repurposing old space.

The building first opened as Holland’s Home Depot location in 2006. Five years later, the company decided to close the store, citing a lack of financial returns. In 2014, Hutton Development Group of Tennessee, Fulcrum Construction of Atlanta and GDK Construction of Holland came together to renovate the 113,000-square-foot site. The building was broken into two large storefronts (Dick’s Sporting Goods at 60,000 square feet and HomeGoods at 21,280 square feet) and five smaller storefronts — all less than 10,000 square feet in size. Five Below and Maurice’s moved into two of the smaller storefronts, while the other three remain vacant today. ‘It has such potential’ Problems with shopping on U.S.-31 are about more than space utilization. Resident and shopper Mata, for example, is also concerned about the environmental costs of continued expansion.

“We still have a lot of land on the north side,” she said. “It’s nice that we still have trees and open space. And now, there are going to be even more people coming for new stores. That’s good for Holland, but it would still be nice if they used open space instead of building further and further north.” Local business owner and resident Vander Wal worries about cost. “A parking lot, from scratch, could cost anywhere from $50,000 to half a million,” he said. “It’s a big investment. So, when people just let these things sit vacant, it’s not benefiting the community. It’s just wasted money, and that’s an issue.” Vander Wal also wonders if new development is really necessary. “Do we need another restaurant?” he said. “Do we need another bank? These are all things being developed, but do we need those things?” According to township manager Bulthuis, the planning commission takes that into account before giving the green light. “When you look at the township’s master plan, you’ll see the new development lines up with what the township envisions for that portion of U.S.-31,” he said. “And as developers come forward, our planning commission does ask for a market study to justify the development is needed. We ask them to provide that information because we have to be mindful of what the market can absorb.”

As a business owner along the corridor, Berghorst maintains there are reasons to appreciate new development. “That’s going to bring more talent,” she said. “It’s going to make the community more vibrant and I really believe, in a town like Holland, there’s enough business for everyone. I believe that competition breeds community. I think it makes people work harder, as long as everyone is playing by the rules.” It can also be difficult for businesses to function in existing space. “When you’re a new business coming in, you might be looking for a specific layout,” Berghorst said. “There might be vacancies, but what are the square footage options? There are a lot of key factors that go into why a space might still be empty.” At the end of the day, Berghorst believes potential is the most important thing. “You have downtown Holland, you have downtown Zeeland and you have us,” she said. “And we’re such a unique mix of businesses. You have banks, you have retail, you have grocery, you have services. It has such potential to grow into something so great, as long as people continue to shop here.”