Plans for the revitalization of the Shoppes at Northway have been greeted with enthusiasm by Ross officials, concern from neighbors and hope from business owners who have stuck with the mall during the downturn.
Levey and Company, an Akron, Ohio-based developer, purchased the mall and the adjacent Northway Elementary School, which has been closed and is serving a temporary headquarters for Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church during construction of a new facility in McCandless.
Levey plans to convert the properties into retail and office space.
Kevin Fallon, vice president of LRC Realty Co., Levey's real estate arm, said the company envisions retail and restaurants on the first level of the facility, and offices on the upper level. The company retained Cupkovic Architects, Cleveland, to design the center.
Company representatives held an information meeting Dec. 5 in the mall's common area. More than 250 people attended, most of them neighbors on Browns Lane.
"We're very excited about this project," said Gary O'Nesti, special projects manager for Levey. "We are going to operate it. We are going to work within the parameters in this community to revitalize it."
They have had discussions with big-box retailers about moving into the facility, but have not signed any new tenants as yet, he said.
Their first step will be to request that the school property be rezoned from single-family residential to commercial. The issue will be before the Ross planning commission next Thursday.
Utilizing the school property is essential to revitalizing the mall, Mr. Fallon said, noting that there are only 100 feet from the corner of Dick's Sporting Goods to the corner of the school. An aerial photo displayed at the meeting shows the proximity, with the school property seemingly carved out of the mall property.
The following steps will involve technical design, traffic studies and stormwater management.
Although Mr. O'Nesti said they will provide "dense landscaping" to shield the development from Browns Lane, many residents of that street asked that the school's driveway be closed and not used as access.
"We'll clearly work with the township on that," Mr. O'Nesti said.
Ross Commissioner Pete Ferraro, who represents that ward, noted the residents' request, but said he welcomes what Levey has to offer.
"This mall was dying. The last thing we want to have is an empty mall, believe me," he said. "Development is just going to go farther north and your tax base is going to erode."
Business owners in the mall are cautiously optimistic about the revitalization plans.
"Anything is better than what this mall has ended up to be now," said Tony DeMarco, owner of Northway Shoe and Repair on the lower level. "It can only be improved."
Paul Mancino, who has operated Mamma Lucia's Pizza on the upper level of the mall for 40 years, said the sale to Levey was "a great move.
"I know this mall inside out, every inch of it, and this is the best thing that could happen."
Bliss Hair Studio has been on the lower level for nearly 11 years. Owner Diane D'Amico said she worked in Ross Park Mall for 10 years before moving to Northway and prefers the "sense of community" at Northway, which was 90 percent filled when she moved there.
Ms. D'Amico said the mall's remaining merchants have banded together to provide events to draw people into the facility, including a "trick or treat event" in October. "We are trying to get the word out that we are still viable," she said.
She said she wants to stay in the mall when it is renovated.
"I think the plans are good. I think there is a lot of potential for this location," she said. "Hopefully, they will include all of us tenants that stuck it out throughout all the downturn."
Mike Mishra, whose Rock America store is across from the salon on the lower level, echoed her sentiments.
"I'm happy that someone bought it. I'm happy they're going to put an effort into the mall," he said. "Hopefully, they will listen to us."
Northway started out as a strip shopping center in 1953, and was enclosed into the first area mall in 1962. At the time, it was well-known for having a large cage of tropical birds on the lower level.
John Schalcosky, president of the Ross Township Historical Society, suggested to Levey officials that they consider adding a bird cage to their plans. The original mall had an enclosed area for birds.
"I was 675 miles away, and even I know there was a mall I visited when I was a child that had a bird cage," Mr. O'Nesti said.
Sandy Trozzo, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org