At one time, Great Western Shopping Center was the place for retail on Columbus' West Side.

Now it's on the auction block; interested buyers can submit bids Aug. 21-23 through the website of Ten-X, a Florida company.

The starting bid for the 34.5-acre site is listed at $1.75 million. Bids at that level are much less than the $9 million the center had been listed for, said Phil Kates of Ten-X.

The property has been under contract "a few times" around the $9 million figure but deals fell through, he said.

"People didn't love the area around it," Kates said.

Nor were the demographics what buyers were looking for: Kates said the median household income is $40,000 and average household income $50,000 within a mile of the center, with 12,000 people living within a mile of Great Western and 110,000 people living within 3 miles.

Great Western currently has a 30 percent vacancy rate. Lutheran Social Services runs a food pantry from one space. A charter school has another space. Other retailers include Save-A-Lot, a grocery store; Citi Trends, a clothing store; and Dollar General.

That's a far cry from its heyday.

When the shopping plaza opened at West Broad Street and Wilson Road in 1955, its stores included J.C. Penney, W.T. Grant, an Albers supermarket, Gray Drug, a Kroger store and Cussins & Fearn, a hardware and housewares store. A Schottenstein's store opened there in 1988.

What most longtime residents might remember, though, was the "Walk O' Wonders" attraction that developers Don M. Casto and his son, Don Jr., along with Joseph Skilken, created to lure shoppers. That included replicas of the Eiffel Tower and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, an 8-foot-deep Grand Canyon and a miniature Niagara Falls, among other landmarks.

"It was great," said Jim Mann, 68, of nearby Prairie Township. "There was a huge Penney's store."

He remembers the replicas of the Great Sphinx, Great Pyramid and Taj Mahal that were part of the Walk O' Wonders.

But as he stood outside Lutheran Social Services recently, he looked at the vast empty parking lot.

"It always looks like this," he said.

Developer Don Casto III remembers the early days, when he was just a young child. He said Great Western originally was planned for where Westland Mall was built.

He said his grandfather had a promotional streak and that's where the Walk O' Wonders came from.

"He needed people to break the old habits of shopping downtown," he said.

The Walk O' Wonders attracted many, young and old, including fraternity boys, whom Casto recalled dumping laundry detergent into the Niagara Falls replica.

Most of the attractions along the Walk O' Wonders disappeared in the 1970s.

The shopping center sold for $6 million in 2008 and then was sold to the current owner, Great Western ARCJ LLC, of Florida, New York, for $3.8 million in 2015.

David Dobos, a former Columbus school board member and president of the Hilltop Historical Society, has fond memories of the Walk O' Wonders when he was growing up and his family would take out-of-town visitors there.

But he said he believes that perhaps the site should become some sort of industrial park that would provide jobs for area residents.

"From a retail point of view, at this stage, I don't know if anything can go in there that's financially viable," he said.

Kates said the property likely would remain a shopping center. But perhaps more of the spaces could be used for recreation instead of retail.

mferench@dispatch.com

@MarkFerenchik