By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Shopping center remodel nears completion
City believes facelift will generate new businesses
Interesting new designs and colors are giving a completely new look to the Whitmore Plaza Shopping Center. The work is nearing completion and will hopefully draw new businesses to vacant spaces at Whitmore and Mitchell roads. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Changes to the façade of Whitmore Plaza Shopping Center are nearing completion with the goal of increasing business traffic and filling vacant spaces.

The shopping center, located at the southwest corner of Whitmore Avenue and Mitchell Road, is rife with vacancies but the makeover is intended to make it a vibrant area of economic activity.

Renovation of the 1970s shopping center started in December 2015 with changes to the stand-alone Bank of America building. Work next was completed on the northeastern building which is home to We Design Hair, Freeway Insurance and Ace Checks Cashed. The building still has a huge vacancy where Delta Blood Bank was located.

The center has suffered from a number of significant vacancies and a façade change is expected to rejuvenate the center and create more interest among prospective tenants. Empty spaces exist where Round Table Pizza was in the 1990s as well as other smaller shop spaces in the adjoining buildings shared by H&R Block, Rent-A-Center, Nail Tech, Sub USA, UPS Store, Asia House, Discount Liquor & Cigarettes and French Cleaners.

The center got a big shot in the arm when Save Mart opened its new store on June 26 in the former space once occupied by Rite Aid. Twenty-eight positions were created as a result of improving the store and expanding it by 15,000 square feet - it's now 43,000 square feet - over the size of the 1980 store. The vacancy left by the former Save Mart space will be filled by a fitness gym.

"The recent substantial renovation affecting exterior facades, business ID signing/exposure, and modified customer access might have had a chilling effect on attracting new tenants during the recent construction period," said Steve Hallam, the city's Economic Developent manager. "That being said, we have seen an increase in inquiries from commercial brokers in the past 30 days, particularly with the recent opening and relocation of Save Mart. I remain confident that, in addition to offering community residents an expanded retail grocery and specialty food shopping experience, the private investments by Save Mart company will undoubtedly result in new tenants opening in the available spaces within the center. It's exciting. We continue to stand by and offer any support we can to the leasing agents for the Whitmore Plaza."

Tom Westbrook, the city's director of Community Development said the center suffered from a dated and neglected façade that included dry rot on laminated wood beams and peeling paint. The façade improvements included removing overhanging sections and adding a cedar-colored horizontal cement lap siding with metal shade canopies, and vertical corrugated metal accents. Colors used on the stucco finish include Norfolk cream, Texas Sage, Kendall Charcoal and Tucson Red.

Save Mart originally was going to use the former Rite Aid garden center as part of the new grocery store but decided not to do so. The store would like to use that area for parking now, said Westbrook.

The Dahlin Group, the architects for the project, inquired about reconfiguring the parking lot and may do so after a tenant is found to occupy Save Mart's old site.

"My suspicion is now that Save Mart is open the vacancies will be filled with a variety of commercial establishments as the recent facade improvement will be a draw," said Westbrook.

Prior to the façade project, the last construction in the center occurred when the landmark Barbour's Save Center was leveled and replaced by the combination Cruisers and Prime Shine Car Wash. In 2003 Taco Bell tore down its old building to rebuild the newer restaurant to the east. At least two other pads, which could accommodate fast-food and other uses, remain vacant in the center.