ALPENA — Convincing stores and restaurants to open on the southern corridor of US-23 is a daunting task and one that likely won’t be done frequently, according to local officials.
Once the premier area for local development, it is now difficult to attract franchises due to the condition of many available locations and the proximity to their competitors, which are often located on the M-32 or downtown d ‘Alpena.
Mike Mahler, director of planning and development for the Alpena Region Chamber of Commerce, said when national brands contact him to express interest in Alpena, more often than not they ask about opportunities on M -32.
He said companies like Meijer, Home Depot, Aldi and Marshalls want to build near other companies offering the same types of products and services. Mahler said the fact that all the shops and restaurants are nearby is also appealing to consumers.
“People like to go in and out of multiple stores on a trip, and are they really going to drive across town to go to one of them?” said Mahler. “These are also probably bright and new places, and let’s be honest, some of the buildings and malls in this part of town are looking a bit tired.”
Several large local commercial properties are currently vacant or underutilized. The old Ripley Street Station grocery store building on Ripley Boulevard, for example, sat vacant for decades.
Mahler said it was owned by someone out of the area and received few inquiries about its availability, condition or cost.
“I haven’t been in this building for over 20 years and the owner has never really contacted me,” he said. “The parking lot is a mess, the old Western Auto building needs to be upgraded or removed. These franchises have high expectations and would rather build something from scratch than move on to something that doesn’t fit their needs. The big developers have all the power, so either you give them what they need or they don’t.
Mahler said the old Peebles building on US-23 South is in better shape than the old Ripley’s grocery store, but as of now there are no plans for development that he is aware of. He said the former Neiman’s Family Market is currently leased to Young’s Appliance owner Bob Young, who uses the space for storage.
Smaller structures, like the old Burger King, remain empty and undeveloped. The longer they sit empty and unused, the more they deteriorate and become less attractive to developers.
Despite opening a few restaurants or stores on US-23 South in recent years, Mahler said encouraging developments are still happening on that side of town.
He said manufacturing facilities use the old mall and old K-Mart building, which is far better than leaving them empty and deteriorating, and other small businesses open periodically.
“There has already been a lot of investment from the Omni companies,” he said. “We might see new local business in this area from time to time as some businesses are looking for more affordable property prices compared to M-32 which is much higher.”
However, the US-23 corridor is not completely empty. Most available commercial and office space is occupied, including hardware stores and health service offices.
Mahler said he will continue to offer assistance to any developer who expresses interest in this area of town, and to promote and market available properties.
I’m not going to say there won’t be franchises that want to build there,” Mahler said. “But I think it’s going to be difficult.”