The Rockport Square plans are about five years behind schedule, but the stalled development hasn’t been forgotten.
That’s part of the message that Rockport Square project manager Bill Sanderson shared with Lakewood City Council on Monday.
During the past few years, the plans for the four-phase development have been changed, scaled down and slowed to a crawl.
Sanderson said that mortgage loans for condominiums have “virtually dried up,” making it difficult to complete the remaining two phases.
The multi-million-dollar project was launched in 2004 with the use of tax increment financing — a method used for subsidizing redevelopment — for acquisition and development of the site.
The first two phases of development, between Newman and Winchester avenues along Detroit, have both been finished for a few years.
The final two phases, on the north and south sides of Detroit Avenue, were projected to be finished by July 2008.
“You can see that hasn’t happened,” Sanderson said. “The market has steadily improved over the last couple years, so it’s only a matter of time. However, I just don’t know what that time frame is.”
When the housing bubble burst and the economy started crumbling in 2007, so did the plans for the final two phases of Rockport Square.
“There was a thought that you could build anything, and as long as it was hip and cool, prices would only go up and never go down,” said Sanderson, who is also the vice president of joint ventures Forest City Land Group. “This was built on that model, and unfortunately this wasn’t as successful as expected.”
Sanderson said he remains hopeful that banks will begin to loan money again.
“The market has steadily improved over the last two years,” he said, “so it’s only a matter of time.”
Some city leaders are growing impatient.
“The short-term issue is that, frankly, those properties sitting vacant like that are an embarrassment to the city,” said council president Brian Powers, who was on the planning commission in 2004 when Forest City first presented the plans.
“It’s a gap tooth in an important part of our smile. What can we do to make it not look like a war zone?”
There have been numerous complaints from nearby residents in the neighborhood about the condition of the empty lots, however Sanderson has said the company has made an effort to clean them up.
“The project is in significant deficit,” he said. “I can’t force someone to come in an build, and neither can you. I don’t think you want something built there that’s not economically viable.”
Dru Siley, the city’s director of planning and development, said that he hopes to “re-ignite a conversation about the development.”
“Where do we go from here?” he said. “This is really a step one in a multi-step process. The vacant parcels that remain aren’t in the best interest of the community, the administration or the developer. So this is about how do we move forward.”
Applebee’s still interested?
The Kansas City-based chain first showed interest in the Forest City-owned property at 12060 Detroit Avenue in 2008.
The city’s architectural board of review approved construction plans.
Then the economy tanked and the deal fell apart.
“Applebee’s has come back into the picture,” Sanderson said.
However, the project is in the “early stages” and the company hasn’t submitted any plans to the city.
What about the 40-unit condo complex?
Last August, the plans for a 40-unit, four-story condominium complex on Detroit Avenue were approved by the city’s Architectural Board of Review.
But those plans, too, have stalled.
The proposal calls for loft-style condos on the large tract of land on the south side of Detroit, between Hopkins and Winchester avenues.
The four-floor structure would include 40 energy-efficient units, ranging from 1,350 to 1,900 square feet, with parking included on the property.
Originally, plans called for retail store on the first floor.
However, market demands and a troubled economy prompted Rockport to shift directions toward a scaled down version, said Sanderson.
No timetable for construction has been set.