Township planners looking ahead

FLINT TWP. – What would happen if the Sears and/or Macy’s department stores at Genesee Valley Center shopping mall should permanently close?

It is an unpleasant, perhaps even shocking scenario, but one that township officials are including in their forward thinking.

Larry Ford, chairman of the township Planning Commission raised the Sears/ Macy’s question during a discussion at a recent meeting.

He asked if the newly reactivated Economic Development Corporation (EDC) could “do some forward-thinking” about the possibility of the mall anchor stores closing, including how to replace them.

“That would be disastrous if we lost those,” Ford said.

Tracey Tucker, township economic enhancement director, said she has met with Miles McFee, mall general manager, to discuss strategies to potentially offset the loss of those stores. She also has invited McFee to share his ideas as the featured speaker at a future EDC meeting.

Both Genesee Valley stores escaped a recent round of closures announced by the Sears and Macys. In January, Macy’s announced plans to close 68 stores, including four in Michigan.

Also in January, Sears announced plans to close more than 150 of its stores this year. Last month, in an annual report filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Sears Holdings Corp. management indicated in its forward-thinking statement that “substantial doubt exists related to the Company’s ability to continue as a going concern.” but at the same time they expressed confidence in the company’s turnaround strategy.

Sears Holdings owns Sears and K-Mart stores. According to the annual report, as of January it operated 670 full-line Sears stores, including 19 in Michigan and 735 K-Mart stores including 38 in Michigan.

Based on her conversation with McFee, Tucker said the outlook for big box stores is not optimistic. Competition from off-price and online retailers is taking its toll. But on the plus side, the JCPenney’s anchor store at Genesee Valley Center is reportedly the top seller of appliances in Michigan, she said.

Tucker, who recently obtained state-required Redevelopment Readiness Certification, said she is meeting with various key players – including realtors – to develop a township marketing strategy. Many of those strategies will be added to the five-year-update of the township’s 20-year Master Plan, which is currently underway

Another idea in early discussion stages is to develop a Farmer’s Market at the old VG’s grocery store on Corunna Road, she said. Interest also has been expressed in organizing local restaurants to hold a Taste of Flint Township event.

Also, a I-69 Trade Corridor Active Freight Study should be out in a few months, Tucker said, adding that she will be going to Washington D.C. in May to meet with a caucus that is working on marketing strategy for the entire I-69 trade corridor from Michigan to Texas.

Tucker said she also plans to attend the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) in Toronto, Canada in September, “which should be beneficial to us as well.” “Connect, Collaborate, and Create” at the global level is the theme and focus of that conference.

Tucker also said she is working on public and private partnerships locally including some economic develop strategies with City of Burton Mayor Paula Zelenko.

An attorney from McGraw-Morris P.C. is coming in next month to talk to the EDC about how to form a Downtown Development Authority and Corridor Districts, Tucker said.

By reactivating the EDC, Supervisor Karyn Miller wants to be very proactive on economic development and wants to see township efforts going on the offense instead of defense, Tucker said.

“We have lots of irons in the fire, lots of good ideas coming in from a lot of sources,” she said, adding that the timing of these discussions coincides very neatly with the Master Plan update.

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