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North Binford district looks for shot of development: Area hopes to rebound from surprising business slump

February 20, 2006

There are 22,200 households within a five-minute drive of 71st Street and Binford Boulevard, according to a recent market study.

The median income inside those homes tops $53,000, about 16 percent higher than the U.S. median income.

Despite those favorable demographics, area retail establishments and businesses have been dwindling.

On the southeast corner of 71st and Binford, for example, there once existed a Preston-Safeway grocery store, an Osco drugstore, a Great Clips hair salon, a pizza parlor, a printing shop, a gym, a cake decorating store and a financial services establishment.

Catty-corner, there was a Sullivan's hardware store, a Mexican restaurant and a card shop.

They're all gone today, as are other businesses, despite traffic counts on Binford that suggest the area is ideal for retail and other consumer-driven businesses.

The exodus has motivated nearby residents and real estate developers to team up to turn things around.

"We don't understand what's happened," said Peter Courtney, co-owner of Movable Feast, a restaurant and catering company at 5741 E. 71st St.

So when residents of Avalon Hills and other neighborhoods close by decided to reclaim the intersection, so to speak, Courtney eagerly joined the Binford Redevelopment and Growth group.

"All the neighbors were concerned about the area," said Larry Riggle, BRAG vice president. "But we're limited in what we can do as a neighborhood group."

What they've done so far is work to improve the looks of the area by cleaning up trash, planting trees and flowers along Binford Boulevard, and urging developers to make things happen.

Indianapolis-based Landmark Properties Inc. owns the 80,000-square-foot strip center where the Safeway and Osco once operated and the nearby land where a couple of office buildings stood.

Landmark acquired the property about two years ago and plans to redevelop it.

"The area fell into disrepair," said Brian Pahud, Landmark president. "We weren't able to get a strong anchor to come in because of the condition of the area. It was not a real rosy picture."

So, the developer is going to raze the existing buildings and start over.

"We think by knocking it down, we'll better our chances of getting it back up off the ground," Pahud said.

One three-story office building has already come down and will be replaced with two stand-alone buildings.

"The office building blocked the retail; it wasn't working," Pahud said.

Two retailers have committed to occupy the space, but because the deal is not signed, Pahud declined to name them.

"I don't want to jinx anything," he said. But he expects to be able to close on those two parcels in the next 45 days and announce tenants by then.

One could be a CVS drugstore, according to the manager of Cord Camera, one of the few existing businesses on that corner. A Huntington Bank and a La Hacienda Mexican restaurant are nearby.

"I've heard rumors the CVS from across the street is moving over here," Kevin Mattox said. He's also heard a Starbucks is going in across Binford where a Burger King stands empty.

Pahud wouldn't confirm the speculation, but thinks his development will make success stories out of new businesses that choose to go in.

The new buildings will be built closer to the street and the parking lot will be redone. A new sign will welcome shoppers to Avalon Crossing.

A new cutoff from Binford Boulevard that didn't exist before should also help.

"That retail strip is the first and only place that drivers coming from downtown can truly pull off and go to a store," said Mark Perlstein, partner and retail expert with the Linder Co., which represents Landmark Properties in leasing.

Once the new buildings are populated,

the 50,000 commuters heading north each day will have an easier way to pull in and pick up that gallon of milk or fill a prescription.

"The area has tremendous grocery potential," said Bill French, a veteran retail broker with Colliers Turley Martin Tucker. "There's a number of retail services not being addressed that should be, like restaurants and dry cleaners and other convenience-oriented retailers."

French sees Landmark's plan working to help revitalize all four corners.

"It's an ideal area for development," he said. "The older buildings are not economically feasible to remodel. It's less costly to start over. It just takes an ungodly amount of time to get everything out of the way, tear it down, and start over."

Once the two unnamed retailers move in, Pahud's group will begin demolition of the other buildings. That will start a snowball effect of retailers and businesses coming back, he and the neighborhood residents think. In the meantime, residents are planning another volunteer beautification day like one they organized last October. In April, residents will band together to plant trees and flowers along Binford Boulevard between 65th and 62nd streets. In October, the stretch between 65th and 75th streets was cleaned up and hundreds of trees, perennials and flower bulbs were planted. "If it's beautiful, maybe retailers will be more inclined to move in," Riggle said.
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