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Stalled redevelopment frustrates city officials
Stalled redevelopment frustrates city officials
By SUE REID
"We see the light at the end of the tunnel," James Perlick, managing partner of the Solar Shopping Center, said last week. Plans for the redevelopment of the shopping center, which includes a new Giant Eagle grocery store, are proceeding, he said. "It's not in the too distant future."
But some members of Solon City Council are not so optimistic.
Councilman William I. Russo said he would be "shocked" if anything gets done in the near future.
"In this economic environment, because of the financing issues they are having, if I were a lender, I would not lend them money myself," Mr. Russo said. "The reason is, there are so many separate parcels, some with no assets, that I think it would be exceptionally difficult for them to find financing in this day and age," he said.
"I think, at some point, we may need to re-evaluate whether we are going to keep the zoning as is," Mr. Russo said. "We may need to rezone it back the way it was, removing the ability to put in the Get-Go."
November will mark one year since Solon voters overwhelmingly approved a rezoning request to allow for a Get-Go gas station near the proposed new Giant Eagle. Mr. Perlick had said that approval was key to the redevelopment of the shopping center at SOM Center (Route 91) and Aurora (Route 43) roads.
But plans for the redevelopment of the plaza appear to have hit a wall since voter approval. The Giant Eagle grocery chain said in April that the developer was facing financial challenges.
Despite those challenges, Erik C. Yorke, spokesperson for the Pittsburgh-based grocery chain, said last week that Giant Eagle "continues to work with the developer to hopefully bring an improved shopping experience to the Solon area."
Mayor Susan A. Drucker also said the city is still hopeful that the Giant Eagle project will come to fruition. "We will work with Giant Eagle and the owner of the shopping center to help make this a success," she said. "The city is ready to go and Giant Eagle is ready to go. It's in the hands of the shopping center owners, and I think they need to step up and help move this project along."
Councilman Edward H. Kraus said his patience is wearing thin. "But I still am optimistic that the owners, who we have had historically a very good working relationship with, will reach an agreement," he said.
That agreement needs to include not just the Giant Eagle but a complete redevelopment," Mr. Kraus said. "I don't want to see just a Giant Eagle store. I want to see various other shops and restaurants and a complete, attractive redevelopment," he said.
"It's a tough economic time, we all know that," Mr. Kraus said. "I believe they have the will, and I think they have the capital."
Mr. Russo said he thinks Solon would be better served with someone else owning the property. "That is the only way something is going to get done," he said. "The city bent over backwards, and the owners themselves could not agree. They are not an easy group to deal with, nor is Giant Eagle, so if you have those two entities trying to put together an agreement, especially in this environment as far as financing goes, I would be shocked if something happened in the next year or two."
Councilwoman Toni M. Richmond said that, although at this point everyone involved is still hopeful that the project will get going, it is the developers dragging their feet.
"Everybody is on board with the project," Ms. Richmond said, "but it's trying to get the property owner to move. Everybody in Solon, including Giant Eagle, want to proceed with the project."
Councilman Robert Pelunis said he would hope that the property owner uses any and all tools that are available to obtain financing so they can build what the voters approved on the ballot.
"When the rezoning passed, we were very hopeful that the project would begin as quickly as possible," Councilman Lon D. Stolarsky said. "We all know the general state of the economy. I didn't anticipate that this project would be affected to the extent of this delay, but I am still hopeful that the project can proceed as quickly as possible."
Councilman William D. Mooney said he, too, is hopeful. "I remain hopeful that this project goes forward. Most residents of Solon would like to see a brand new grocery store in that center. It's disappointing that it is taking that long, but I understand financing has proved difficult."
"It's this patient juggling or balancing of interests that, while it's taken some time, in the long run, will benefit all of us," Councilman Richard A. Bell said of all the parties involved.
"The zoning took place last November and the residents and city administration had every expectation that there would be a deal in the offing," Mr. Bell said. "That deal has taken time from my understanding because there are a number of owners of this shopping center."
But it's imperative to keep a major grocery store in Solon, Mr. Bell said. Giant Eagle, "from my understanding, have every desire to work with the city and with the multiple owners to strike a deal," he said.
"I think the city did everything in its power to provide the atmosphere for this to be successful," Mr. Russo said. "We've put two zoning issues on the ballot that were approved to enable this to go through, and yet the property owner does not have the ability to hold up their end of the bargain. Something will only happen if they sell property to other developers or come to an agreement that Giant Eagle leases the property and develops it themselves.
"It's exceptionally frustrating," Mr. Russo said. "Frustrating from the residents' viewpoint and frustrating from council's viewpoint. I am sure the property owner and Giant Eagle are frustrated, but at the end of the day, that frustration does not get the job done."
"The clock is ticking," Mr. Kraus said. "I think clearly by the end of the year, we need a full-scale agreement with Giant Eagle and a more detailed redevelopment plan.
"Having the Giant Eagle is the main component," Mr. Kraus said. "They are the anchor. They hold the real key to it all."
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