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Harrison's Heights Plaza Shopping Center looking to bounce back

| Friday, May 24, 2013, 11:04 a.m.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Misty Lack, a resident of the Sheldon Park housing complex behind the Heights Plaza, safely takes her children, Braedyn and Brice, on a shopping trip using the new pedestrian walkways in the Harrison shopping center on Wednesday, May 22, 2013.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
A sign advertising a new management company and leasing space available sits in the entrance to the Heights Plaza shopping center in Harrison on Wednesday, May 22, 2013.
Eric Felack | Valley News DIspatch
A man uses the new pedestrian walkway in the Heights Plaza shopping center in Harrison on Wednesday, May 22, 2013.

Nearly six months after fire ravaged the Heights Plaza Shopping Center, a push has begun to make it vibrant again.

Brad Kelly, vice president of retail for Colliers International, said his company has been retained as the leasing agent for the plaza in Harrison Township. The plaza is the property of Wild Blue Management of New Jersey, whose owner is Steve Kogut.

“We were engaged by the owner to help him re-tenant that property, and we are really excited about it,” Kelly said. “It is going to be a really, really nice thing for the area. It is basically going to a brand-new facade, a new center there with a clean, fresh look.”

The fire that damaged a cluster of storefronts — from the large corner space formerly occupied by Macy's to Dunham's Sporting Goods — occurred just before Christmas. There was smoke damage as well to the storefronts beyond those damaged by fire. Renovation work has been ongoing since then.

Kelly said the entire facade will be replaced from First Commonwealth Bank to the corner storefront where a UPMC facility will be located and over to the Subway Sandwich Shop. He thinks the remainder of the plaza facade from there to Community Market also will be replaced eventually.

“We told Steve and he agrees that it makes sense to continue this new, upscale look all the way down the center,” Kelly said. “There is definitely a commitment from the ownership and that's the first step.”

Also, he said they are considering renaming the plaza and putting up new signage.

George Conroy, chairman of township commissioners, said he was glad to hear about Colliers' involvement and approach.

“Yeah, definitely, because it has been let go, let's be honest,” Conroy said. “Maintenance has been let go, and we've called (Kogut) with different concerns and we never got an answer from him. After he took over, it seemed like it went on a downhill spire to me. He couldn't even fix the potholes.”

Kogut could not be reached for comment.

The plaza has, for decades, been more or less the town center for Harrison, which is primarily a bedroom community. Concerns about its future began to grow within the community after Macy's closed; several smaller stores closed or moved out; and storefronts remained vacant.

“That's what the owner's goal is, to create a better, town-center type of development, and we are excited to be on the team to help him out,” Kelly said.

It appears that the plaza is about to lose another major tenant. Kelly confirmed that Dunham's will be moving to the former Freight Liquidators Furniture store up Freeport Road in the Wal-mart shopping center.

“Their lease is coming up,” Kelly said. “I think the timing for the fire probably was not good and the process they had to go through with that. That was very unfortunate for all the merchants up there. “

He said nobody is signed to replace Dunham's, but Kelly is optimistic that space and others will be filled.

“We do have some prospects that we are talking to,” he said.

Colliers officials attended the International Council of Shopping Centers convention in Las Vegas last week, hoping to drum up some prospects.

“It is the largest convention of the year where you have 35,000 to 40,000 retailers there,” Kelly said.

He said it was a great opportunity to talk to out-of-state companies about Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh area.

Restaurants, in particular, were a focus, Kelly said. He also thinks other retail segments, such as a pet supply store and fitness centers, can be a good fit.

“I wish them all the luck in the world,” Conroy said. “I hope it is successful but I think their big problem is — and I heard this from one of the tenants — that what they are charging is out of line.”

Conroy said he would love to see another department store, such as a Boscov's or Kohl's, locate at the plaza. Kelly, however, has his doubts.

“I don't think you are going to get another Macy's, but I think you can get some apparel retailers who can help fill in what Macy's used to provide for the community,” Kelly said. “I also think we need to get a coffee shop in there where people can go and gather.”

“We're going to bring new retailers in and, once we do that, it is going to make all the difference in the world,” he said.

Conroy said: “I hope they are successful for the township's sake and everybody's sake.”

Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or tyerace@tribweb.com.

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