Swifton Mall orphaned giant searching for market, future

By Cliff Peale, Post staff reporter

Swifton Commons Mall, the first regional shopping center in Greater Cincinnati, is at a crossroads.

The huge facility has been swept aside in the retail wars of the 1980s and 1990s as malls like Kenwood Towne Centre sprouted along interstate highways.

And as the population in the Bond Hill and Roselawn areas surrounding the mall has declined, Swifton lost its natural market.

According to a report released this week, Swifton must now decide what shape it wants to take for the next century.

''Today, although Swifton Commons could be ranked as a regional center due to its size, in reality it functions as a community center,'' said a report presented late Thursday to a task force studying the center's future.

The report, prepared by the Cincinnati consultant Marketing Developments Inc., recommends combining Swifton Commons and the nearby Hillcrest Square into one multi-use complex. The plan would consolidate retail uses in one facility, and convert the other to commercial or industrial use.

The plan calls for ''a substantial center within the market, rather than two that are half-occupied,'' said Stan Eichelbaum, president of Marketing Developments.

''Hillcrest Square, with ownership in place and an renovation underway, has a substantial lead compared to Swifton Commons' need to still identify an owner,'' the report said.

Cincinnati City Council Member Dwight Tillery, who pushed for the report when Star Bank bought Swifton out of foreclosure last year, said it underestimates the positive effect a revitalized Swifton could have on the neighborhood.

''The real problem is there's really no commitment,'' Tillery said, noting city subsidies to retailers Lazarus and McAlpin's downtown. ''That's what they don't want to do in a place like Swifton. They don't want to put any money in there.''

Eichelbaum said that with investment from the city, the community and a developer, the mall could be revitalized. Recruiting an anchor tenant, such as a grocery store, would be one of the first steps in attracting the right mix of specialty retailers, he said.

But the mall also needs investments in its physical plant totaling more than $700,000.

Star Bank has said it will sell the retail facility if it can use the proceeds to recoup the bondholders' investment. The city formed the task force to study alternative uses.

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Mall profile

Swifton Commons Mall:

Opened in 1956 as Greater Cincinnati's first regional shopping center.

Is owned by Star Bank. Acting on behalf of a group of bondholders, Star bought it for $2.2 million out of foreclosure in October 1996.

Includes nearly 550,000 square feet. Currently, most of the space, including an anchor spot formerly occupied by Elder-Beerman, is vacant.

Publication date: 08-02-97

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