By John Scimone
Let me start by saying that government and business need to work together and not against each other in order to prosper! This statement relates to the Northfield plaza! Back in 1999, I put a group of investors together to purchase the Northfield Plaza! The place was almost empty. It was only 20% rented, the owners at that time did not care about the plaza and they were hard to work with! They attempted to “stick it” to any company that wanted to rent! They had a philosophy that if a big business can afford it, then let them pay. And that philosophy coming from rich owners made it a little ironic! You have to ask why would you invest in a hostile environment? We were reluctant about going forward with the project due to the political animosity between the owner, county and city officials! I had set up a meeting up with at the time Victor Milani the mayor of Northfield Village to express our interest in purchasing the shopping center, remodeling it and filling it with tenants!
The process started well with Victor and I. We got along well and we both had the same goal in mind! Purchasing a 200,000 square-foot shopping center isn’t an easy thing to do. It had no income, a lot of vacancies and many violations! But being in real estate and construction, I had a great vision for the plaza and Victor shared that vision! I put a group of investors together – mainly Larry Shafron (who I miss dearly) and myself! Larry had a lot of confidence in me and I was determined to make it happen! It took about a year to close the deal! So I started meeting with the mayor and the building department trying to figure out what we could do legally without having to go through all the red tape! They physically pulled out a book that was about 8 inches thick and we went through it to see how we can make this process go smoother and faster! I started talking to businesses, smaller ones at first and putting them into spaces with little to no hassle because nobody wants to wait a year for a permit because you will lose businesses! I would use one business to attract the next. I was showing them the willingness to help them be successful because that helps us be successful! The Plaza started to fill up and we were remodeling spaces as we were getting tenants. A lot of these tenants had timelines that if they didn’t make that timeline then they were not interested. I handled all the business contacts, all the leases, and all the construction to make this happen! We did things when people told us it was impossible to do, and all that did was give me more drive to prove them wrong.
Things started to happen but still had a large space to fill: the 60,000 square-foot old JCPenney store. It was too small for the big box stores and two large for the smaller stores! I was in a one-year negotiation with Gabriel Brothers stores. They barely called me back but I was relentless in my pursuit to get them! I offered to put a 10,000 square-foot addition and at the last minute, I offered to rename the plaza Gabriel Brothers Plaza! They were stunned.. really? I said, “Absolutely, you will be our largest tenant and you deserve to have the name”!
So to speed the story up, with the cooperation of mayor of Victor Milani, the building department and the summit county chief building inspector Bob Miller, we all worked to make this happen! This type of cooperation does not happen often! City officials, building departments, and EPA are usually more concerned with stopping projects and giving builders and developers a hard time. I remember at one point Victor Milani went to Summit County and sat on the floor until I got inspections in a timely manner. It was at that point Summit County realized we were not messing around!
Within 3 years we had filled 195,000sq ft of the 200,000 Square feet. I also added an out parcel for McDonald’s and Handel’s Ice Cream. Once it was built, the Handel’s Ice Cream was open for business in 30 days! We also added an additional 40,000 square-foot outbuilding! That was totally filled! When Gabriel Brothers had their grand opening there was not one available parking place in the entire shopping center! It was done, it was complete, and it was jamming! The tenants were happy and the customers were happy! We created hundreds of new jobs and increased tax revenue for Northfield Village. Without Victor Milani‘s cooperation and Larry Shafron ’s trust in me, this would’ve never of got done! We also purchased a smaller 60,000 square-foot Plaza less than a mile away and of course, we filled that also!
After I completed what I set out to do, I had left as an operating partner and only did some consulting, Larry who is much older than me, was ready to retire. He then turned the reins over to his son! They would call me in the office frequently to talk about lease renewals and things that we’re going wrong. There was a lot of friction between me and the new team! The partnership between Larry, Victor and I was very unique and was never duplicated!
The plaza went back to the philosophy that the big businesses can afford it and that philosophy was not really pro-business. They were not working with city officials and the plaza started in a death spiral. They were not able to secure lease renewals and some tenants started to move out! When I saw this happening and realized that the new management had a hard-nosed attitude towards these businesses and was not cooperating with city and county officials, I was awarded a buyout! Now there are 3rd rate tenants and the plaza has many vacancies! So I thank Victor Milani & the late Larry Shafron for working together with me to make the project successful back in the day!
This is why I support what president Trump is doing to bring back companies and jobs! If you are not engaged with companies and not showing a willingness to work with them then you are working against them. If you are forcing high taxes and regulations, why would they even consider! Being pro-business is the only way to grow! Being anti-business is the result of the current state of the plaza! It takes a unified effort on all parties to grow businesses and create jobs! And a special Thanks to Mayor Victor Milani for awarding me a proclamation honoring and congratulating me for my role in the rebirth and rejuvenation of Gabriel brothers plaza on November 13th 2002.