Metro Detroit developer taps Centerpointe team for 'de-malling' Holland's Westshore mall / by Josh Cykiert

By Shandra Martinez, MLIVE

HOLLAND TOWNSHIP, MI — A Metro Detroit developer is tapping the architect behind Centerpointe Mall’s successful "de-malling" to design a similar transformation for the struggling Westshore Mall.

Greg Erne, a partner in Southfield-based Versa Development, the mall's parent company, also has hired the Grand Rapids mall's current leasing agents to fill Holland’s biggest shopping center with retailers.

The plan, which will take about a year to complete, received the go-ahead from the Holland Township Planning Commission on Tuesday night.

Erne says the mall's current tenants are very interested in his plan for the shopping center, which will get a new name: The Shops at Westshore, along with a slimmed-down new look.

“They want to know what we are showing them can be built,” said Erne, principal at Versa.

The unanimous approval was an important first step of the major makeover that will strip out most of mall’s spacious interior corridors, and will give stores’ exterior entrances that can be easily accessed by shoppers from the parking lot.

The mall’s 410,480 square feet will shrink by 25 percent, or nearly 100,000 square feet. Westshore’s new 367,000 square feet of leasable space would include 35,000 square feet in four new out lot sites along U.S. 31.

"I applaud what you are doing here," Planning Commissioner Dennis Gebben told Erne.

The Nov. 11 meeting provided Erne an opportunity to publicly unveil the turnaround plan for 26-year-old mall that has been in a downward spiral for more than a decade.

Versa, along with out-of-state investors, bought the 40-acre property that sits between James and Felch streets, east of U.S. 31 for $5.5 million in 2012. The property includes the strip mall between the Hobby Lobby and the Kohl’s stores to the north of the mall, two empty restaurants along U.S. 31, but not the Mattress Firm store or the PNC Bank branch to the south along James.

Erne has spent the past 18 months developing a plan, and gaining the support of current tenants including anchors Younkers, JCPenney and Dunham’s Sports. Overall, about dozen retailers remain at Westshore today: Victoria’s Secret, The Buckle, Claire’s, GNC, Bath & Body Works and Chuck E. Cheese.

At its peak in the 1990s, the one-story mall had four anchors and more than 50 tenants.

“We have spent a lot of time and effort to figure out what this mall needs,” Erne said.

While the mall currently has the feel of a ghost town with much of its retail space shuttered, the Colliers International team hired to fill the revamped space is not worried.

“We still think there are number of retailers that are not in the Holland market that are out there circling waiting for this plan to finalized to be able to come to the table,” said Mark Ansara, a retail adviser with the firm’s West Michigan office. He attended the planning commission meeting with Earl Clements, principal at Colliers International, which now handles leasing for Centerpointe.

The out lot buildings, which include the potential for drive-thru lanes, will be especially attractive.

Despite its location along Holland's main highway where about 35,000 cars pass daily, Westshore's traffic count is about half that of Centerpointe on East Beltline Avenue in Grand Rapids. That is one reason why the Holland mall's lease rate will probably be in the mid-$20 range per square foot in the out lot buildings, which is about one-third less than what Centerpointe charges, Ansara said.

Like Centerpointe, the Holland mall will stay open during the construction.

Architect Mark Drane, of the Bingham Farms-based Rogvoy Architects, said Westshore’s transformation will be easier to accommodate for both retailers and customers because construction work will be primarily on the west side of the mall that faces U.S. 31.

“It won’t be as complicated because many of the retailers are gone,” Drane said after the meeting.

While Drane says his retail work has involved shrinking developments, Centerpointe was his first major de-malling project. He has also worked with Erne on three other projects.

Erne said the results of the two’s latest collaboration will be more aesthetically pleasing than Centerpointe because the layout can accommodate more landscaping elements, outdoor walking paths and possibly an indoor and outdoor children’s play area.

“There’s a little more walkability,” in the plan, Erne said.

Erne described himself as a good friend of Chris Brochert, of Lormax Sterns Development Co., the West Bloomfield firm behind the Centerpointe Mall turnaround.

After the $50 million-plus investment, Lormax Stern sold the Grand Rapids shopping center for $68 million to a New York investment firm and is now working onresurrecting the failed Village at Knapp’s Crossing in Grand Rapids.