Strip mall turns key to success

| Thursday, April 5, 2012

Treadmills were whirling in a busy Fitness 19 on a sunny Tuesday evening.

"I come here every night," said Shaler resident Maureen Bellavia, 55, on her way into the gym in McIntyre Square, a busy shopping center in Ross and McCandless.

Bellavia said she and her family also frequent Emiliano's Mexican Restaurant, Hallmark and a GNC store in the shopping center.

Despite some vacancies, McIntyre Square's traffic is steady, while a shopping center across McKnight Road in Ross, the Shoppes at Northway, has more vacancies than tenants. In fact, the 385,000-square-foot, enclosed shopping center has been in receivership since February after a foreclosure lawsuit against its owner, Northway Group LP.

Northway Group could not be reached for comment.

Both Ross and McCandless have lost commercial businesses during a down economy, but real estate agents say the retail market overall is undergoing a recovery. Furthermore, the Shoppes at Northway's condition is an anomaly that was caused by its layout, agents said.

"The lower level is McKnight Road and the back is at grade at the rear of the site," which is not as attractive to customers, said Sandy Cikovic, a sales associate at Langholz Wilson Ellis Inc., a Downtown-based real estate company.

Contrast that with the success of McIntyre Square, which has taken advantage of the strong North Pittsburgh/Highway 19 real estate market. It is the highest-demand market in the Pittsburgh area, said Jared Imperatore, retail brokerage manager for Grant Street Associates Inc., Downtown.

The Ross, McCandless, Cranberry and Pine market's vacancy rate was 3.9 percent at the end of the year, and its average rental rate per square foot was $16.28, the second-highest of all area submarkets.

With slots for 37 businesses, McIntyre Square includes Subway and China Star restaurants, Kmart, Tan Seekers, Office Max, Gabriel Brothers discount clothing store and a nail shop in a strip on the right that is in Ross. An Edible Arrangements store will move in soon. The other side of the development includes Giant Eagle, Stein Mart, Dunham's Sports and four banks, including PNC and Dollar Bank, in McCandless.

Emiliano's, Olive Garden, Chuck E. Cheese's and the Original Pancake House are in freestanding buildings in Ross.

A 600,000-square-foot development that began in the 1960s, McIntyre Square is owned by two companies -- First City North Associates and McIntyre Square Associates -- taking different portions.

A good mix of businesses, including a large Giant Eagle, has fueled strong traffic at the center, said Don Martin, vice president of The First City Co., the Downtown-based landlord of the property.

"We'd like every space filled as everyone would, but in this economy, we're happy with having very few vacancies," Martin said.

Business at Emiliano's location in McIntyre Square has improved after a downturn between 2008 and 2010, but it could be better, said Benny Ulloa, general manager and co-owner.

"What I would like to see is the shopping center advertising more for itself," Ulloa said.

Burton's Total Pet store co-owner Burton Patrick said the shopping center was managed well, but he would also like to see the development publicized more.

Most of McIntyre Square's tenant losses in the past have been because of corporate decisions that left large spaces by a few exits, Martin said.

For example, the spot formerly occupied by Builders Square, a home improvement store owned by Kmart that was closed in bankruptcy, was vacant for about five years until Dunham's Sports and Stein Mart filled the space in 2007, Martin said. They split the 94,000-square-foot lower level of a building whose top level, a 115,023-square-foot space, was taken over by Giant Eagle in 1986.

The entire building had formerly been occupied by a Kaufmann's department store.

In 2006, Gabriel Brothers took over a 60,000-square-foot space vacated by Festival Foods after Phar-Mor left.

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