Plans for old Forest Fair Mall could include major food retailer

Plans for old Forest Fair Mall could include major food retailer

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FOREST PARK – A local developer wants to buy the beleaguered Cincinnati Mall, formerly Forest Fair Mall, and turn it into an industrial park that could include a 120,000-square-foot major food retailer.

Developer Rob Smyjunas, CEO of Oakley-based Vandercar Holdings, said he’s negotiating with New York-based World Properties to buy the more than 90-acre site for an undisclosed price.

Smyjunas presented his proposal to the Forest Park City Council on Monday, and requested a zoning change for a potential industrial park on the mall’s Forest Park site. The other side of the mall, which includes a Kohl’s, sits in Fairfield.

The mall property, which has undergone several name changes and iterations over the past decade, sits mostly abandoned since Bass Pro Shops closed its location there in January and moved to West Chester.

Smyjunas’ current concept for the site, which could change, currently includes:

  • A 120,000-square-foot retail space for a “major retailer food store.”
  • A 40,000-square-foot retail space.
  • Three industrial buildings.
  • Two, roughly two-acre sites for entertainment and/or dining.

“It needs to produce for the city of Forest Park – jobs,” Smyjunas said about the site. He declined to offer further details about what would be coming to the site.

Liberty Township’s Costco Wholesale is around 160,000 square feet. Sam’s Club stores, the warehouse club retailer owned by Walmart, can be around the same size. Kroger’s upcoming Marketplace in Hamilton Township will be 123,000 square feet.

Who controls the mall site?

Smyjunas’ plans for the site would initially focus on the Forest Park section and require approvals from Forest Park city leaders and the Northwest Local and Winton Woods City school districts.

Kohl’s, the only remaining anchor tenant at the mall, still has a lease on its share of the 20-acre Fairfield portion of the site, and it’s unclear what the department store retailer’s future plans are, Smyjunas said.

“Right now we’re focused on Forest Park,” he said. “We won’t know for awhile how the Kohl’s thing is going to unwind.”

Emails to a Kohl’s media contact were not immediately returned.

Officials with the city of Fairfield, which would have to sign off on development of the Fairfield portion of the property, also could not be reached for comment.

The Fairfield City School District had no comment on Smyjunas’ plans, Superintendent Bill Smith wrote in an email.

The Butler County Land Bank has already received a $7.9 million state grant to demolish the mostly abandoned mall site.

But Smyjunas must satisfy the bondholder for previous development at the site before demolition can begin.

We’ve been in many conversations with the existing bondholder, and they seem to be willing to talk and engage,” he said.

What would the ‘job farm’ entail?

Hillwood, a Dallas-based developer that was looking to buy the mall before Smyjunas stepped in last month, was planning to demolish the mall and build a light industrial complex there.

Hillwood might still be involved in the development of the industrial park if Smyjunas gets his way, he said.

“We’ve been working with them (Hillwood) for a while,” Smyjunas said. “If we get this thing rezoned and put all the pieces together, we’d like to have them (Hillwood) on the industrial portion of the redevelopment.”

Smyjunas described the proposed three-building industrial development as a “job farm” with manufacturing, assembly and high-tech operations.

“That’s what’s in demand at this moment, and we hope to bring a lot of employment to the city of Forest Park,” he said.

Who is Rob Smyjunas?

Smyjunas has been the driving force behind several major projects in the Cincinnati area.

He made headlines in 2019 for orchestrating the redevelopment of the former Millennium Hotel site in downtown Cincinnati.

And he was the developer behind such signature projects as Oakley Station at the Center of Cincinnati; the Neighborhoods at Summit Park in Blue Ash; and the Row on Merchant in Springdale.

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