ALPENA — Convincing stores and restaurants to open on the U.S.-23 South corridor is a tall task and likely one that won’t be accomplished frequently, local officials say.
Once the premier area for local development, luring franchises now is difficult because of the condition of many of the available locations and the proximity to their competitors, who often are located on M-32 or in downtown Alpena.
Mike Mahler, the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce planning and development director, said when national brands contact him expressing interest in Alpena, more often than not, they inquire about opportunities on M-32.
He said businesses like Meijer, Home Depot, Aldi, and Marshalls want to build near other companies offering the same types of products and services. Mahler said having all of the stores and restaurants neighboring each other is also appealing to consumers.
“People like to pop in and out of several stores during one trip and are they really going to drive to the other side of town to go to one of them?” Mahler said. “They are also likely bright and new looking places, and let’s be honest, some of the buildings and strip malls in that area of town look a little tired.”
Several large local commercial properties are currently vacant, or underutilized. The former Ripley Street Station grocery store building on Ripley Boulevard, for example, has sat vacant for decades.
Mahler said it is owned by someone out of the area and he receives few inquiries about its availability, condition, or cost.
“I haven’t been in that building for more than 20 years and the owner never really reaches out to me,” he said. “The parking lot is a mess, the old Western Auto building needs to be improved or removed. These franchises have high expectations and would rather build something from the ground up than move into something that doesn’t fit their needs. The big developers have all of the leverage, so you either give them what they need, or they don’t budge.”
Mahler said the former Peebles building on U.S.-23 South is in better shape than the former Ripley grocery store, but as of now, there are no plans of it being developed that he knows of. He said currently the former Neiman’s Family Market is being leased to Young’s Appliance owner Bob Young, who is utilizing the space for storage.
Smaller structures, like the old Burger King, remain empty and undeveloped. The longer they stay empty and unused, the more they deteriorate, and become less attractive for developers.
Despite few restaurants or stores opening on U.S.-23 South the last handful of years, Mahler said there are still encouraging developments happening on that side of town.
He said manufacturing facilities are utilizing the old mall and former K-Mart building, which is much better than having them sit empty and deteriorating, and other small businesses open periodically.
“There has already been a lot of investment from the Omni companies,” he said. “We might see a new local business in that area every now and again because there are some companies that are looking for more affordable real estate prices compared to out on M-32 which are much higher.”
The U.S.-23 corridor isn’t totally empty however. Most of the available commercial and office space is filled, including hardware stores and healthcare service offices.
Mahler said he will continue to offer assistance to any developer who expresses interest in that area of town, and to promote and market the available properties.
I’m not going to say there won’t be any franchises that want to build there,” Mahler said. “But, I think it is going to be challenging.”