The future of the old Westland Mall may come into focus sooner rather than later, following the recent sale of a Sears store and auto shop. Some longtime West Side residents say it's about time to look forward.
“Wondering when the change is ever going to happen,” says Bill Huffman of the Greater Hilltop Area Commission (GHAC). "Is it going to happen in my lifetime or is it going to be in my kids’ lifetime that we see this change?"
The Sears buyer, LGR Realty in Columbus, now owns the mall's 88 acres and all its buildings at West Broad Street near I-270. The company purchased Sears and its auto shop along with some other parcels of land for $3.15 million on April 18.
LGR Realty spokeswoman, Deb Miller of Boulevard Strategies, says the property will be demolished first. Miller says they “have a pretty good concept” for what will be included in a new development.
She did not provide any details other than that developers are working with officials from the Hollywood Casino Columbus, and that the site will be “mixed-use.”
Westside resident Huffman, 68, joined others this week at a community meeting to talk about what they would like to see on the property. Franklin County Commissioners plan to take their input to help organize a plan.
“People were talking about vocational schools, career schools, trade shops, other things, some small retail, maybe a sit-in restaurant, but I don’t think they want to see this ever go back to just strictly retail,” says Huffman.
Huffman says a convention center could fill some of the space and would be accessible for travelers to the West Side.
“What better way to move the traffic in and out of Columbus, off the West Broad Street at 270? Move them in, move them out, no congestion,” Huffman says.
The convenience of the freeway was one thing that attracted the Hollywood Casino Columbus to the area. It has been open at 200 Georgesville Road since October 2012, around the corner from the old Westland Mall.
The casino’s success, though, has been slow to help the neighborhood. The front of the Westland Mall shows wear from decades of neglect, with a broken glass door greeting the few passersby. Debris from cracked walls and building materials lie on the ground, and the grass is full of discarded cans.
“I’m ready for the change,” Huffman says. “I’m 68 years old. I’ve seen Columbus grow and I’ve seen it fall and I’ve seen it pick itself back up and thrive.”
Miller says LGR Realty continues talking to Columbus city and county officials about how to bring that change to life.
“These things take a lot of time,” Miller says.