Wards Corner’s Midtown Shopping Center described as “dead zone”

In today’s business section of a publication for property lawyers Melbourne, an article headlined as “Dead Zones” mentioned 5 retail dead zones. Midtown Shopping Center on the northeast corner of Granby Street and Little Creek Road was one of them. For years, the Greater Wards Corner Partnership has complained about the poor management of this shopping center. Any commercial real estate agent can tell you that the design of this center is obsolete. It is very hard to lease spaces that are extremely long and narrow. Retailers today want frontage for visability to the street or parking lot. We can only hope Ms. Joan Dalis, the owner of the Midtown Shopping Center, will sign on to the vision of the Greater Wards Corner Comprehensive Plan for the northeast corner.

MIDTOWN SHOPPING CENTER
2007 assessment $7.1 million
Year built 1946
Total square feet about 75,000 of retail space
Square feet under lease
Not disclosed
Notable Uncle Louie’s Restaurant served as a longtime place of civic activity.
BEFORE Southern Shopping Center was hip in the 1950s, and prior to sometimes trendy Janaf Shopping Center, there was the Midtown Shopping Cent er.
At the intersection of Granby Street and East Little Creek Road, the retail hub was a pivotal place of Norfolk business during the 1940s.
“We used to be the Times Square of the South,” said 78-year-old Nellie Francis, a 33-year Wards Corner resident and manager of the center’s Sarah’s Hallmark, one of a handful of stores left.
The center was eclipse d by other retail centers such as Southern Shopping Center and The Gallery at Military Circle, previously Military Circle Mall.
Midtown Shopping Center has struggled to attract tenants. It has several vacancies in contrast to the more vibrant shopping center across the street.
For 61 years, Midtown Development Corp. has owned the Midtown Shopping Center. The 4.6-acre property was assessed at $7.1 million last year, according to city records.
One of the center’s most popular tenants was Uncle Louie’s Restaurant. Famous for its savory Reuben sandwiches and seasoned egg salads, Uncle Louie’s was the center of civic, leisure and business activities for 21 years.
The eatery gave birth to the community group Wards Corner Partnership and hosted many political shindigs and other parties. The restaurant closed abruptly in 2005.
Three years later, that space and several others in the shopping center remain empty.
Larry Hecht, the center’s retail leasing agent at Harvey Lindsay Commercial Real Estate in Norfolk, said that although the building is older and requires work and a substantial financial investment, he has received calls from prospective tenants.
Hecht said he is waiting for the right people to come along. As a Norfolk native, he’s hoping for a turnaround.
“There’s still a lot of traffic that funnels through Granby Street and Little Creek Road,” Hecht said. “There’s money to be made there.”

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14 Responses to Wards Corner’s Midtown Shopping Center described as “dead zone”

  1. John Knight says:

    As the owner of The Book Exchange, which is located in Midtown Shopping Center, I would like to set the record straight.

    Mr. Hecht states that he is “waiting for the right people to come along”. I can tell you from first hand experience that the right people have come and tried to rent nearly every space in the building and they continue to do so. These include a major hardware store, restaurants that have been in business for over 30 and 50 years each, the Norfolk Police Department and very respectable retail businesses. These are only some of the businesses that approached me when the landlord and leasing agent failed to give them the time of day. The fact is that, for very twisted reasons, they do not want to lease any of the spaces and have not wanted to do so for the past 4+ years. Because of this selfish behaviour, the area continues to suffer.

    The vacancies in Midtown Shopping Center have nothing to do with competition from other shopping centers. Wards Corner has the best traffic in Norfolk. The problem also has little to do with the design of the building. Most of spaces across the street at the Perry shopping center are just as deep and that building is nearly 100% occupied while we stand at approximately 25%.

    Lastly, a substantial investment is not needed for tentants to go into most of the empty spaces. I invested approximately $10,000 in remodelling my space upon entering four years ago and we still get positive comments on the space daily. Yes, cosmetically, the outside of the shopping center looks like hell, but I have have never had a leak in the roof or any other problems with my space.

    While demolition and rebuilding the shopping center make sense, I guarantee a competent landlord and agent could fill every space in that building with minimal investment.

    I and other investors have offered to purchase the property for a reasonable price above the assessed value of $7.1 million and our offer still stands, but we are not holding our breath…

  2. Joan Griffey says:

    Mr Larry Hecht has been waiting for the right people to come along! The past 8 years that I have been attending civic league meetings, nothing has occurred to update this property, add curb appeal or to fill vacancies…… Mr Hecht is obviously overpaid for managing a dead space! The Harvey Lindsay “space available” sign should be removed as false advertising. What a legacy this family and this rental agency leaves to our good citizens who have need for a suitable shopping district nearby.

  3. Leanne says:

    John — Larry Hecht’s comment was the one thing in the entire article that did not sit well with me as well! We all know that several people have been interested in leasing the spaces, but for some unknown reason the landlord is still “actively” looking for the “right tenants.” I don’t buy that one bit.

    The outside of the building is definitely not appealling to the eye. As far as the roof leaks, I definitely have them. The temporary fixes only hold up till the next heavy rain comes. The maintenance guy usually replies, “the building is old and the roof is flat.” And that’s that!

    As long as we are still paying on our leases, which we obviously have no choice, the landlord is content just taking our money and keeping the shopping center vacant. No care as to how the businesses that remain are affected by all the vacant shops.

    My business is a big part of my life and my happiness and I love all my customers; however, right now my business is suffering in this shopping center with very little traffic and I’m not happy here! I’m just buying my time!

  4. Jim English says:

    Mr. Hecht is obviously out of touch with reality to think that that “dead zone” will ever come back to life. That is the eye sore of the Wards Corner Business area. Of course is he nothing but the mouthpiece for the owner who refuses to take any pride in the property or the Wards Corner area. I and many others have been working for many years toward revitalization efforts for the Greater Wards Corner Area and although we are making slow progress the owner of that eyesore refuses to cooperate with any of us or the city of Norfolk. If they would take the time to read the Wards Corner Comprehensive Plan they might realize the potential for their property as well as the entire area. As it stands right now that area is a drain and impediment on the growth and well being of the entire area. To paraphrase what President Reagan said to the the Russian leader Gorbachev. “… tear done this Building”.

  5. Laura Thom says:

    I second all of the above comments. It’s a shame this property is owned by someone who obviously does not care and who has in place a leasing agent who is less than honest. Wards Corner is a MAJOR intersection in Norfolk with tons of potential. With the thousands & thousands of vehicles as well as pedestrians who pass through Wards Corner each and every day, it would not take long to restore its former title “Times Square of the South.”

  6. Les Demmin says:

    Wards Corner Civic League and the Wards Corner Partnership, together with the Wards Corner Task Force have been wrestling with this problem area for the past seven years.

    About 50 years ago I bought a shirt at Wards Corner to go on the first date with the lady who has been my wife for the past 47 years. That shopping option is no longer available. It should be.

    The surrounding area has the population to support the commerce of Wards Corner of the bygone era. This will become increasingly important with high fuel prices which encourage local shopping.

    It is time to increase the pressure to get the results of the resurrection of the dead zone.

  7. Tim Smith says:

    What a great legacy Dr. Martone left our area only to have it ruined by one person. Dr. Martone ‘s children must be sadened to have this put in the paper.

    Jim is correct, as the agent for this property, Mr. Hecht speaks what he is paided to speak. I worked in comercial property management for 12 years and that is what agents do.

    Like Les, Wards Corner was the were we shopped when I was growing up. Wards Corner is were I prefer to shop today. Because of the inaction of my elected officials, as a small protest, I spent my money outside of Norfolk every chance I get. I will gladly spend me disposable income localy if my city spends my tax money on Wards Corner’s Comprehensive Plan.

    This situation just goes to show how much impact one person can have on a community, sometimes positive – sometimes negative.

  8. Dale Watson says:

    As one of John Knight’s employees and a resident of the area I am in complete argeement with the above posts. The landlord is riding dangerously close to activity that directly hurts her renters. When you sign a lease you enter an agreement in good faith. The business of managing the Midtown shopping center is far from management in good faith. It is an overall failure on behalf of the owner of the property.

    By continuing to leave empty space when there have been a multitude of offers of occupancy is negligence on a grand scale. The simple fact of the matter is that she is hurting her renters.

  9. dave says:

    I remember clearly how cool wards corner was 25 years ago. What I don’t understand is why the city doesn’t use its powers to encourage the present owners of this landmark location to do something positive with it. After all we are not talking about someone’s home we are talking about the center of our fine city’s main corridor looking like something from the 60’s during urban flight. It is a blight that is contrived and should be treated as such by our city’s management. Whatever the motivation of the owner it is our neighborhood they are trashing. I am a firm believer in private property rights. However when your actions affect the value of my property then I expect protection from my duly elected government. The owner is obviously in some manner incompetent or, something more sinister is involved. Who knows may the city is in on it.

  10. Dawn says:

    If the 2007 assessment was 7.1 million,how does the owner pay the taxes on the shopping center if she’s not taking in any money?Seems to me she would want to get people in there to rent these places. There must be something going on that there not telling us.

  11. beverly sexton says:

    —–Original Message—–
    From: Luce, Rebecca J CIV NAVFAC MIDLANT, Union Office
    [mailto:rebecca.luce@navy.mil]
    Sent: Wednesday, June 18, 2008 7:30 AM
    To: beluce@cox.net
    Subject: FW: Denby Park

    —–Original Message—–
    From: Whibley, Terry [mailto:terry.whibley@norfolk.gov]
    Sent: Tuesday, June 17, 2008 21:14
    To: Luce, Rebecca J CIV NAVFAC MIDLANT, Union Office
    Subject: RE: Denby Park

    No project in Norfolk will get my vote until Ward’s Corner is
    revitalized, and I think I can promise this from Barclay, Williams and
    Hester. We’ll keep working on the Denby Park Apartments.

    Thanks.

    Terry

    —–Original Message—–
    From: Luce, Rebecca J CIV NAVFAC MIDLANT, Union Office
    [mailto:rebecca.luce@navy.mil]
    Sent: Tue 6/17/2008 8:44 AM
    To: Whibley, Terry
    Subject: Denby Park

    Good morning,
    Just a quick note to ask for your support in helping to
    revitalize the Greater Wards Corner area. Read in the paper recently
    about other projects and would like to see a change in the drug activity
    in the apartments in Denby Park. Thanks for listening. RJ Luce

  12. Jody says:

    Only having lived in the area for the past five years, I guess I am more out-of-the-loop than I previously realized. I believe in “community” on SO many levels…and am just curious as to who the “right people” are that are? Does anyone HONESTLY have a clue, or is that just a canned response from Hecht? And here go my rose colored glasses again, but can we get the Civic Leagues together and speak to this woman regarding her desires and ours, or is it too far past the ‘discussion’ point?

  13. Eric Heard says:

    I would think that the loss of business, the dangerous property, issues concerning lack of maintenance, destroying our potential uptown image, there must be a law suit possible. Isn’t there a courageous firm out there that would take these slumlords to task.

  14. Mary Taylor says:

    I grew up in Norfolk. We loved People’s drug, Rice’s; K&K Toys was a dream for kids! Now we have a go-go bar, exotic “clothing” store, 2 drug stores auto-parts store and a mess of an old shopping center. What a let down. The City Council needs to find a backbone and notify Dalis/Martone that their time is up. Tear it down/fix it up time is over. Time for Norfolk to claim Imminent Domain and provide progressive, tax revenued businesses back to the citizens of Norfolk. P.s. love to see Dalis/Martotne’s tax records on how much they claim depreciation on that land!

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