Increasing building maintenance costs and a struggle to attract businesses has inspired the property owners of the Village Shoppes in Elmira to begin discussions with the township, the BIA, and current tenants about how best to renovate it later this year.
Flow Café has already left, and announced on Dec. 21 they would not be reopening, but instead focusing on their coffee catering business.
“A rumor has been floating around about our business potentially closing and we are writing in response to that. Our landlords have decided they will not be offering us a new lease and therefore we are uncertain of the future of our business in 2016 and beyond,” they posted on their Facebook page.
Gavin Fitzpatrick, vice-president of business development at The Kain Group, declined to comment on which businesses will be staying in the building, stating they’re still in the early stages of figuring that out.
“They’re leaving,” Fitzpatrick said of Flow Café. “There’s at least two others at this point. We’re still in discussions.”
The Kain Group took over the property in 2010, which houses other businesses such as Schelter Office Plus, Woolwich Total Health Pharmacy, and the Village Pet Food Shoppe.
Schelter Office Plus, and the Village Pet Food Shoppe confirmed on Tuesday they’re both looking for new locations.
Fitzpatrick says the 20,000-square-foot building is less than half full.
“A lot of that is related to the cost of the building, the maintenance costs of the building have gone up quite a bit,” Fitzpatrick said.
He says the tenants share common area fees, which are “pretty expensive” in that building. Those include things like hydro and snow clearing.
They’re hoping to make the building more energy efficient as part of the renovations.
“We’ve sort of gotten into a bit of a rut with the building in the last little while, in that it hasn’t been full. We’ve had a few tenants in it and it’s kind of been a perfect storm where we’ve got these tenants in the building, the building maintenance costs have gone up quite a bit over the last few years and so we were looking at the building thinking we need to do something with this building to make it a little bit more successful for us, for the people in it, and obviously for Elmira as well,” Fitzpatrick said.
They started looking at how they could renovate the building two months ago. He says when they found out a couple tenants were leaving that pushed them to move a bit faster.
They’re hoping by making it look more attractive on the outside they can attract more businesses.
“To be quite blunt the look of the building on the outside, it’s not inviting. If you look at a lot of retail buildings they have a glass front door or some sort of window so that you can see into the building. Ours is very much a wood covered building. It’s kind of interesting that it’s so beautiful on the inside and it’s being covered in blue wood on the outside,” Fitzpatrick said.
The building was built as Brox’s Olde Town Village and many moons ago was a popular tourist destination, with busloads of tourists coming to shop and eat at the restaurant.
“Right now it’s at best being sort of badly underutilized,” Fitzpatrick said.
They’d like to show off the building in all its post-and-beam glory. By bringing some “light” into it they’re hoping to fill it back up with tenants.
“Most of the buildings that people build nowadays are metal, they’re either a concrete or metal frame and then the building goes up from there. They throw some windows on the front. That is a much easier beast to work with, but we think we can do something much better with this because it’s got that unique character. So we’re pushing toward making that the centerpiece of the building again. They certainly had a good vision when they built it but the layout is a little bit odd right now,” Fitzpatrick said.
He says aside from their building and one other, all the downtown properties are usually full – an abnormality for a small town downtown.
“We’ve been engaged with the BIA, we’ve talked to the township. And we’re continuing to do that, meeting with a number of stakeholders and businesses. We want to make sure what we do fits into the downtown. What we don’t want to do is decide that we have a purpose for the building and then the downtown doesn’t need that,” Fitzpatrick said.
He said the businesses staying in the building will remain open during construction, but they might move around inside. They’ve got an architect engaged and once they know who’s staying and who’s going they’ll decide where to put them.
“We’re trying to make sure we fully understand what will succeed there for us, for the tenants, and for the city. And then that’s what we’ll move forward with.”