A Westland community meeting April 29 was supposed to focus on ideas for the overall development of the area. But not surprisingly, many in the crowd were jazzed about what finally seems to be a future for the desolate Westland Mall site.
"This is the gateway to the West Side and the gateway to the city. It needs to reflect that," said Aryeh Alex, a trustee in Franklin Township, where the 88-acre mall site is located.
"Some green space would be amazing," Alex said April 30. "Some affordable housing.
"But ultimately, it has to be something in partnership with the community that allows other businesses to engage with it."
On April 18, LGR Weston of Columbus bought the Sears building, plus the automotive center and hundreds of parking spaces at the mall, for $3.15 million. That gives LGR and a related company, Plaza Properties, control of the entire mall site.
Plans are to replace the mall with a mixed-use development called Weston, according to Deb Miller, principal owner of the Columbus retail consulting firm Boulevard Strategies, which is working with Plaza Properties on the project.
Miller said her company's duties include marketing and branding, along with supporting events at the development, whatever it will be.
The development is to be complementary to the nearby Hollywood Casino Columbus, she said.
"We're focusing on doing a multiuse development," Miller said.
The 1-million-square-foot Westland Mall has been largely vacant since 2012. The Macy's store there closed in 2007, and Sears in 2017.
In addition to the new project in the works for Westland Mall, Franklin County officials are creating an economic-development plan that is expected to be finished sometime this month.
The April 29 meeting, convened to discuss the county plan, attracted about 80 people to a neighborhood planning session at Haydocy Automotive to work with officials on area priorities and make recommendations. Some ideas for the mall site included housing, restaurants with outdoor seating, hotels and entertainment.
Chris Haydocy, the West Broad Street car and RV dealer who has been helping to lead redevelopment efforts in the area, said it could be "a family thing."
"Entertainment," he suggested. "It could be a sports center. An amphitheater. A golf center. A water park.
"Would love to see apartments or condos. Or a Starbucks."
James Schimmer, Franklin County's economic development and planning director, said the county will work with the Westland Mall developer as things progress, including on possible incentives.
A partnership called the Bluestone Single Tenant Properties group is behind a proposed $20 million project to build a Thornton's gas station, a convenience store and a 95-room hotel at the southeast corner of West Broad Street and Georgesville Road. But the Greater Hilltop Area Commission has opposed it.
"I'm surprised at the opposition," said Timothy L. Ryan, the Buckeye Lake developer who is part of the Bluestone Single Tenant Properties group.
Betty Jaynes of the Westgate Neighbors Association said she doesn't think the hotel deal will happen.
"We just felt like a fueling station is not compatible with a hotel," said Jaynes, who is not a commission member.
"We are pro-development," Jaynes said, but noted that it must be the right development.