Vacant spaces in the Falmouth Shopping Center are slowly being filled and improvements are being made, tenants say, steps that have been overshadowed by the strip mall owners’ battle to evict one of their largest tenants.

A new tenant is opening next month and the broker for the shopping center said another is about to sign a lease. Many spots in the shopping center have been vacant for years and the spaces being filled are relatively small, but the broker said the owners are adapting the strip mall on Route 1 to the times, with smaller spaces being rented out instead of larger storefronts.

Steve Baumann, the managing partner of Compass Commercial Brokers, said the previous owners of the shopping center had inherited it and were reluctant to put much money into it.

The shopping center was sold for $21 million this spring. The main focus of the new owners has been the 20 acres of undeveloped land along Route 1 that came with the shopping center, and an ambitious plan for developing housing, a hotel, space for restaurants, offices and more retail uses was unveiled shortly after the transaction.

The plan, which hasn’t been formally presented to the town, has attracted opposition, and a proposal by the new owners to rezone part of the property to allow playing fields and an indoor athletic facility was rejected this summer by officials.

The new owners, developers Joseph Soley and Jonathan Cohen, have not commented since unveiling their plan for the property in June. But town officials have said they don’t expect to see major changes to the shopping center early on, with the focus on plans for the undeveloped land.

In April, shortly after the sale closed, the new owners moved to evict Ocean State Job Lot, a chain discount retailer. The new owners’ lawyers said the retailer failed to provide paperwork on its lease within the time window set out by the law, but Ocean State fought the eviction. Last week, a Cumberland County Business Court judge sided with Ocean State, saying the delays in the paperwork were largely caused by the lawyers for the new owners, so the eviction was negated.

But while that legal battle was going on, the new owners were making improvements to the shopping center, redoing sidewalks and fixing roof problems, Baumann and tenants said. The electrical system was also upgraded, primarily to adapt to smaller spaces that are now favored more by retailers, Baumann said. For instance, instead of a larger department store, smaller spaces for businesses such as cellphone stores or a small clothing store, are more popular now.

The business moving in next month is Salty Dog, a dog daycare center, Baumann said. He declined to identify the other new tenant because the lease had not been signed.

“We have a lot of things in movement,” he said.

Clare Lygo, the owner of Book Review in the shopping center, said the new owners seem responsive. Lygo had been talking for months with the previous owners about getting ceiling tiles in her store replaced and the new owners have set up a time for the work to be done. The previous owners were mostly out-of-state, she said, and largely unresponsive.

She said the new owners removed outside trash receptacles, which led to a litter problem, but that’s been addressed by more frequent appearances from a maintenance crew. People were using the trash cans to clean out their cars, Lygo said she was told by the new management of the shopping center.

The list of items to address had grown in the last years of the previous ownership, she said, including issues with the roof and a sewage problem.

“Anybody who took over this shopping center, it would have been overwhelming,” she said, and that was the reason why there were so many vacant spaces. Ocean State, for instance, filled a spot that had been empty for more than a decade.

Lygo and Baumann both said they don’t know why the new owners moved so quickly to try to evict Ocean State. The only reason given was the delay in the paperwork. Ocean State officials said they were baffled and noted that the paperwork was completed just 16 days after the new owners asked for it, instead of the 10 days specified by law. The judge’s ruling said the new owners brought up issues for Ocean State to address and then failed to contact the retailer’s lawyer to try to resolve the differences.

Lygo said she had no problems with the paperwork requested by the new owners and hopes she can renew when her lease is up in four years. She said she likes the continuity of having her bookshop in one place and is positive about the direction the new owners are heading.

“They’re paying attention when I email them and they’re giving, hopefully, some freshness to the shopping center that will bring more people to this area,” she said.

 

filed under: