When the air conditioning unit at Powell Hair Design Studio unexpectedly stopped working two weeks ago, its longtime owner Pat Petty fixed the problem right away.
Even more unexpected than losing AC on a hot Tuesday afternoon was a visit the next day from the new landlord's general manager. He made sure Petty was reimbursed for the repairs.
"The leases here say something like that would have been my expense, but they came in and took care of it," Petty said. "I feel like the new owner and management team really care about doing well here and I think it will happen with their attitudes. All I can do is say good things about them."
Air conditioning units aren't the only thing that Alex Alahakoon, a Zanesville doctor who has a successful residential record with TIA Real Estate Holdings LLC, plans to upgrade at North Liberty Plaza.
Since becoming the new owner of the bank-owned shopping center three weeks ago, Alahakoon and property general manager John Chess have laid out plans to pave and restripe the parking lot, upgrade outside lighting and redo the building's siding. They'll also be adding benches and flower pots to give the soon-to-be renamed plaza a more welcoming feel.
"We're going to change the name to Liberty Square," said Alahakoon, who hasn't filed the request with the city, but plans to do so later this month. "I want to give the message that this is a new beginning."
Chess said he hopes the estimated $175,000 in renovations will lure seven new businesses to the plaza in the next two years, including two restaurants. The plaza currently houses six businesses: Petty's barber shop, Powell Village Bakery, Lin's Wok, Powell Cleaners and Mowry Chiropractic. North Liberty Diner opened for business just two weeks ago.
"It's sort of been for the last two or three years the forgotten child of malls in that area," Chess said. "No one could really move in because it was bank owned and no one was signing leases or taking care of the people who were in there. So we thought it was a great opportunity to come in and give it a little TLC for no other purpose but to renovate that particular area, because it has lots of great qualities."
Those great qualities include 165 spaces for parking, something that's rare in downtown Powell, and high visibility thanks to the cars that drive in front of the plaza between South Liberty and Powell roads.
Although Alahakoon couldn't say which restaurant he's in negotiations with to become the plaza anchor, taking over the spot where the Hickory House once served up steak, he revealed that he expects a new business by a local restaurateur to open sometime in the next two months.
Along with other renovations in the plaza, a patio is being added to the 5,000-square-foot restaurant space.
"We want (the shopping plaza) to be a well-known place in the community that is an extension of downtown, and having a patio there will give people a place to hang out," Alahakoon said.
Petty, who said he was the first barber in Powell when he opened his doors 27 years ago, said he has always seen the potential in the North Liberty Plaza, but this is the first time he's felt so optimistic since moving into the space five years ago.
A longstanding, positive reputation has kept Petty busy, even while other businesses like Las Margaritas, Jodi's Home Cooking and Mama Zarella's moved out of the plaza. But he said he'd welcome an increase in business -- one that could fund an expansion. Petty said he'd like to add an old-fashioned candy store to his barbershop, should the positive visions for the plaza's future come to fruition.
"When you've seen this place empty for so long, it has become somewhat invisible to people because they know that things have come and gone," he said. "When I look out of my shop, I see an incredible amount of traffic and what I think is, the key here is to get people to turn into this parking lot because there is a reason to turn in here."