By Sue Botos
Residents and city officials have breathed a collective sigh of relief as the due diligence process continues for the proposed Edwards Communities apartment complex planned for the easternmost section of the former Rockport Shopping Center. However, talk of what will happen to the rest of the site, particularly the old Target building, has amounted to rumors until now.
Dennis Fisher, representing owners Wald & Fisher Inc., and Fred Margulies of Herschman Architects presented preliminary renderings to the city planning commission at its meeting last week, detailing four free-standing structures situated toward the front of the property. Fisher said that two of the buildings would house the Huntington Bank branch, presently at Rockport, and a Piada Italian restaurant.
He added that due to cost concerns, the Target building would be “very complicated” to raze, and that tenants are being considered for the subdivision of the structure.
The future of the Performance Bicycle shop, the only other business aside from Huntington still located at Rockport, is uncertain, and managers have refused to comment to West Life. Fisher said that none of the work will affect Panera Bread, a free-standing building on the northeast corner of the site.
“We have the ability to develop the remaining property into something more desirable, something that matches the master plan,” Fisher told the commission, adding that the design would “go hand in hand” with the one proposed by Edwards Communities. He referred to his plans as “the cusp of mixed use,” stating that the area was too small for a true mixed-use proposal.
Commission members, while satisfied that plans have been proposed, balked at the aesthetics of the project. While the buildings will be closer to the street than those of the old shopping center, parking is still planned for the front. “I’m baffled by the arrangement of the stores. It will look just like it did with all cars in the front. As far as improvement and appearance, is this as good as it gets?” asked commission member Charles Gustafson.
“No tenant will sign a lease with parking in the back of the building,” countered Fisher. After commission members pointed out that a number of businesses do have such a layout, Fisher stated, “I’m at the mercy of my tenants. If it kills the deal, I won’t have to come back next month.”
“I see this as a fantastic opportunity, but this does not meet my expectations,” commented commission member Trisha Brown. “To my mind, this is not in the spirit of the master plan.”
“We’re reacting to an extremely limited demographic in the best way we know how,” responded Fisher. “More people will be driving (rather) than walking here. It may never be as pedestrian- friendly like the master plan calls for,” he continued.
Responding to commission member Tom Long’s question about his vision for the four buildings, Fisher said it would work out “one brick at a time” with tenants “feeding off one another,” starting with Huntington and Piada. This will be the first northern Ohio location for the Columbus-based chain.
According to its website, Piada Italian Street Food is described as “a fast, casual authentic Italian eatery serving hand rolled Piadas (a type of Italian-style sandwich), Pasta Bowls, & Chopped Salads.”
Although Fisher stressed that his proposal is “absolutely contingent” on the Edwards project, he wants to get a jump on his work. “The odds are strong that two of our buildings (Huntington and Piada) will be up before they (Edwards) hit the dirt,” predicted Fisher, who added that he hoped to break ground by fall.
Although the commission tentatively OK’d the plan, Chairman William Harvey told Fisher to “listen to what we said” and to present an updated version for a public hearing at the June 19 planning commission session.