Construction hasn't even officially begun on the new home-improvement store at the former Northland Mall site, but already the first shopper is lined up.

Construction hasn't even officially begun on the new home-improvement store at the former Northland Mall site, but already the first shopper is lined up.

"I want to be the first customer at Menards," Mayor Michael B. Coleman said Monday during a ceremonial groundbreaking for the Wisconsin-based chain's initial foray into the Columbus market. "Can I get that commitment?"

"Absolutely," said one of the Menards officials on hand for the event.

These included J.R. Menard, corporate treasurer and the son of the company's founder.

"We're extremely excited to break ground here," he said after being introduced by the mayor. "We love Ohio."

"We've come a long way, a long way," Coleman said in his opening remarks.

He recalled the dark days of 2002 and the closing of the city's first modern shopping mall.

"Retail had left this area," the mayor said.

Coleman spoke of the decision by city officials to purchase what at that time was the largest vacant and abandoned property in Columbus, and how a process was started to return retail to the site by working with area residents devastated by the closing of the mall.

That's now happening, Coleman said, with the decision by Menards officials to go ahead with the big-box home-improvement store, which the mayor added represents an $11.5-million investment on the part of the company. The store, which is to be finished next spring, according to earlier announcements, will have 80 full-time employees, Coleman said.

"We bought this ... on faith and belief that we would get it redeveloped," he said. "We're seeing the light at the end of the tunnel."

The tax incentives city officials have offered to entice Menards to go ahead with the project are part of an overall strategy to stabilize and revitalize the Morse Road corridor, Coleman said. That represents $30-million in investments by the city, the mayor added.

The city is offering Menards a 75-percent, 10-year tax abatement on real estate improvements, according to a statement issued by the mayor's office. Upon completion of the project, Columbus will have invested more than $38-million on redevelopment of the Northland Village site and infrastructure improvements on Morse Road.

The investment includes $19.4-million on site redevelopment, including acquisition of land, utility improvements and new roads for the redevelopment plan, and $18-million in improvements along Morse Road for the corridor from Interstate 71 to Cleveland Avenue.

Eventually, the entire redevelopment of the former mall property will produce some 800 new jobs, according to Coleman. That's in addition to the approximately 1,000 jobs at the Ohio Department of Taxation building on the site.

"This is the cornerstone for redevelopment in the area," he said.

"Northland has never given up on redeveloping this site," Councilman Andrew J. Ginther said, adding that the groundbreaking was a sure sign of the "resiliency and resolve of Northland."

"We are thrilled that Menards is going to be joining us," Franklin County commissioner Marilyn Brown said, gesturing to the nearby animal shelter that's under construction.

Brown suggested that Menards employees might want to spend part of the lunch hours volunteering to walk the dogs at the shelter once it's completed.

"Frankly, if it weren't for the neighborhood, we would not be here," Coleman said.

In his remarks, Northland Community Council president Dave Paul also talked about what it was like when the shopping mall went under, after opening in 1964 and remaining the city's only shopping mall until 1967.

"When the mall closed in 2002, it left a big hole in the community's core," Paul said. "This morning, Northland residents are excited to welcome Menards to what is now the Northland Village site, not only because it represents jobs for area residents and increased retail choice in a unique and appealing format, but because we believe that today's announcement is the first of many that will herald the rebirth of the site of the former mall as the hub of the Northland community."

Menards, Paul said, has 255 other stores in a dozen Midwestern states and enjoys a "track record as a great community partner ..."

"In closing, and with the great honor of speaking for the residents and businesses of the Northland area, I say that we look forward to a long, productive and prosperous partnership between Menards and the Northland community," Paul said.

kparks@thisweeknews.com