(This is the second in a three part series examining the history, present and possible future of what is today one of Sanford’s most blighted commercial properties. Read the first part here.)
When Sanford voters passed four bonds in the 2013 municipal election, one of them provided funds for streetscape renovations to the downtown areas in both Sanford and Jonesboro.
If the city showed it was willing to invest in its downtown areas, the pro-bond argument went, private dollars were likely to follow.
Today those projects today have been completed, largely to public approval. To celebrate their completion, Downtown Sanford hosted a street festival in April that culminated in a fireworks display over Depot Park witnessed by hundreds, and while challenges remain, the feeling about Downtown Sanford is one of optimism and renewed vitality.
The feeling in Downtown Jonesboro isn’t quite the same. In fact, there’s something of a perception that Downtown Jonesboro won’t experience the success realized in Downtown Sanford until something is done about Kendale Plaza, the crumbling, 53-year-old shopping center standing just a block away.
“We met with owners in the spring, and we came away from that meeting feeling like they were willing to invest in the shopping center after the work that we’d done in downtown Jonesboro with the bonds,” said Jimmy Haire, a local historian and at large member of the Sanford City Council whose photography business is near Kendale.
Sanford Mayor Chet Mann said that meeting was an opportunity for the city to share with Kendale’s owners a “Jonesboro Revitalization and Redevelopment Study,” commissioned by the city in 2016 (we’ll touch on the details of the study later on) in the hopes that the owners would see the potential value in making new investments and repurposing the property.
“But they came back to us and said they’d rather sell it,” Mann said.
So, yeah. Kendale is for sale. What exactly that means for its future, though, is unclear.
Seller Kendale Partners LLC wants $3.85 million for the property (significantly less than the nearly $5.8 million tax value), which stretches across more than 20 acres on three city blocks. There’s a huge amount of detail in the offering, including fascinating tidbits about the unoccupied 2700 block being “ready for redevelopment” with the “possibility for multi-family senior living” with city government being “ready and willing to work with Kendale Plaza for redevelopment efforts.”
“It really is an exciting possibility,” said Bob Joyce, Lee County’s economic development director. “The owners of these 50 year old centers across the country are realizing that they have these junky old buildings, but with great real estate potential.”
But the details in the offering also include that at just 54 percent occupied, rental income generates nearly $300,000 annually in profit. That means there’s a distinct possibility that the next owner is more interested in collecting that monthly profit than in investing the kind of resources that many believe are necessary to “save” downtown Jonesboro.
And even setting aside local historical significance to focus strictly on economic terms, downtown Jonesboro is certainly worth “saving.” That revitalization study referenced earlier shows more than 18,000 people living within a five minute drive of Kendale. More than 50 percent of those are younger than 35 years old, and nearly 30 percent of them are younger than 16, indicating an economic opportunity for businesses willing to invest in the area.
And some of that can already be seen, if you know where to look. After being briefly considered for use as the city’s utility department (subscription required), an old bank building across from Kendale has been announced as the new location of a pediatric clinic. One can only guess as to whether the forces behind that business are aware of the demographic information in the revitalization study, but the activity undeniably dovetails with the contents of the report.
The revitalization study gives more of a glimpse at the redevelopment ideas hinted at in the sale offering.
“Chief among suggested future uses in the Kendale Plaza were apartments and mixed use development, large scale indoor and outdoor recreational venues providing unique, not generally available experiences, governmental, institutional or educational facilities,” the report reads. “The general opinion was that Kendale represented a unique opportunity for large scale development coupled with existing, viable business at the Plaza into one of the three current segments. Improved landscaping and facade improvements were also offered unanimously.”
Further, the report argues that a mixed use redevelopment is probably the only viable path forward for the the shopping center, given “its location off corridor” and that it is “not well positioned to be repurposed as an industrial site.”
“Lack of visibility, traffic flows, and its linkage to a struggling Jonesboro Main Street corridor … adversely impact Kendale Plaza’s viability as a retail site … leading to deferred maintenance, further exacerbating the center’s rent and vacancy issues,” the report reads. “Without a significant repositioning or redevelopment, Kendale Plaza will likely continue to decline.”
So the path forward is clear, at least for anyone willing to take the first step. That’s what we’ll look at in the final part of this series.