April 11, 2012 - A prime piece of Oxford real estate has an experienced new owner who's on the hunt for retail tenants to expand the area's shopping opportunities.
The Birmingham-based Center Management recently purchased the 11.47-acre retail development known as The Promenade at Waterstone, located on the east side of M-24, between the Meijer property and E. Market St. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
"We're in nine other states, so we have a choice of where to buy, but we think that Michigan is dramatically under-retailed," said Thomas Guastello, president of Center Management. "We think Oxford is a perfect example of how under-retailed (the state is) in terms of the consumers that reside in Oxford (and) in terms of their income levels.
"We think it's a very, very attractive market and that's why we bought in Oxford. We also like being close to Meijer. It's one of the iconic brands of Michigan."
Center Management (www.centermgt.net) has specialized in commercial real estate for more than 25 years. The company owns and manages properties that include both national and regional tenants encompassing retail, restaurants, hotel and hospitality, and offices.
The Promenade at Waterstone consists of an existing 13,000-square-foot strip center, plus enough vacant land to construct an additional 57,000 square feet of retail space.
Right now, the development includes a Tim Horton's and BoRics Hair Care along with a vacant building that previously housed a Chili's Grill & Bar.
Looking for tenants
Guastello indicated Center Management is wasting no time in seeking out tenants for The Promenade at Waterstone.
Representatives from HHGreg have already toured the site. Founded in 1955 and headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana, HHGreg is a specialty retailer of consumer electronics and home appliances. The company has more than 200 stores nationwide.
Guastello explained that HHGreg is looking to open eight to 10 stores in Michigan. Whether the company opens a second wave of stores would depend on how well this first wave does.
Center Management has also talked to Performance Bike, a national chain of bicycle stores, along with two stores that deal in automotive components and a national chain involving mattress stores.
Getting potential tenants excited about coming to this state is no easy task.
"One of the toughest problems we have when we talk to out-of-town retailers, the national tenants, is they start out with a very bad image of Michigan based on some of the headlines they read," Guastello explained. "They're not so sure they want to come into Michigan when they have a lot of other states to choose from.
"We have to tell them that areas are much different in Michigan than their perception."
Fortunately, once potential tenants see things for themselves, they usually change their tune.
"If we can get them in the car and drive them out to Lakeside (Mall) or dive them out to an Oxford or some of the other areas like Chesterfield, they suddenly say, 'Wow, this is as good as it gets,'" Guastello said.
Next month, Center Management plans to travel to Las Vegas, Nevada to attend a global convention for the shopping center industry.
It's called RECon and it's organized by the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC). With nearly 30,000 attendees and 1,000 exhibitors, it's the largest industry convention.
"We're going to be pitching Oxford and this center very strongly (at the convention) because it's laid out well and it has a lot of parking," Guastello said.
Tractor Supply Co. is still on board
Plans for the addition of a Tractor Supply Co. (TSC) to Promenade are still in the works.
Both Guastello and Don Kettler, of the Muskegon-based DMK Development, which has been building TSC stores for about 13 years, confirmed a purchase agreement is in place for about 3.42 acres of the 11.47-acre site.
Based on previous plans submitted to the township, TSC is looking to build a 19,097-square-foot store with an additional 22,306 square feet of outdoor sales and display areas.
Kettler is hoping to get the planning process with the township started within two to four weeks.
If all goes well, Kettler said, "My guess is we'd hopefully break ground in August or September."
"We really like working with Don," Guastello said. "He's representing a great company. He's a Michigan guy, he knows the economy and he's done a wonderful job with Tractor Supply. That's one of the stores that people are excited about coming in."
TSC's been looking to open a store in Oxford Township since at least 2006.
Founded in 1938 and headquartered in Brentwood, Tennessee, TSC offers a wide variety of products including generators, workwear, animal feed and care products, power tools, riding mowers, lawn and garden products, pet supplies, livestock equipment, horse stalls and agricultural fencing.
TSC customers include farmers, horse owners, ranchers, part-time/hobby farmers, suburban and rural homeowners, contractors and tradesmen.
A strong market with lots to offer
Looking at the overall community, Guastello believes Oxford has a lot going for it, from the downtown area and "great schools" to the golf courses and the "openness."
Its lack of retail shopping is another positive in terms of attracting tenants for The Promenade at Waterstone.
"The Oxford/Lake Orion market is, I think, a very, very, very strong market," Guastello said. "It's a thinner market than some, but it's a strong market in terms of demographics, the schools, the desirability of it. What helps make it stronger is a lot of it is under-served by retailers."
Give the people what they want
In order to help determine what Oxford residents would like to see in terms of new retail shopping opportunities in their town, Guastello indicated 100 households were cold-called and surveyed.
The one response that kept coming up was shoe stores.
"Especially when we got women on the phone," Guastello noted. "I have three daughters, so I don't want to get in trouble here, but the women of Oxford that we've talked to want more shoe stores in town."
Those surveyed also indicated they would like to see more athletics stores, bicycle shops and restaurant choices.
Guastello admitted that "Oxford has a number of very good bars and restaurants," but "we'd like to get a couple of strong restaurant people in there that could bring some new concepts."
When asked if Center Management plans to do any more survey work, Guastello replied, "I really don't know. I think we've got a good taste of it, but as we go on we might."
He noted that whenever he or his people are in town and they stop at a "gas station or coffee shop," they plan to engage local folks and ask, "What would you like to see here?"
Guastello encouraged Oxford residents reading this story to feel free to contact Center Management at (248) 549-0900 or via e-mail at CMSinMI@aol.com.
"If they have any better ideas than we do, we'd sure be glad to hear them," he said.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.