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Marijuana businesses to revive former Monroe outlet site

For the last five years or so, the only growth one could find at the Monroe Factory Shops on LaPlaisance Road in Monroe Charter Township was the overgrown weeds springing up from cracks and seams along its neglected walkways.

Once a thriving retail mecca originally called Manufacturers Market Place, the few remaining retailers at the 33-year-old retail center next to I-75’s Exit 11 — a fireworks seller and a uniform shop — had long since departed by 2015 and left the place empty. Wendy’s, Burger King, and McDonald’s fast-food restaurants along LaPlaisance all have also shut down, with McDonald’s the last to quit last summer.

But if things go as expected, a different type of weed — marijuana — will revive the vacant outlet center and turn it into a retail site with at least two growing facilities and three dispensaries.

Marijuana for both medicinal and recreational use is legal in Michigan.

The idea for turning the 22-acre center, which was known at one time as the Horizon Outlet Center, into a place for marijuana cultivation and dispensaries, largely belongs to Chris Harter, an entrepreneur who grew up in Monroe and now splits his time between his business interests in Atlanta and Michigan.

In 2015, Mr. Harter convinced two former business partners to buy the Monroe Factory Shops with the intent on reviving it into its old outlet center format with national brands. The partners’ Atlanta-based Nazar Holdings 18 LLC still owns the center, county records show.

“The truth be told, we had this great vision and to be honest it just failed,” Mr. Harter said of the plan to re-energize the Monroe Factory Shops.

“Our problem was in not foreseeing the retail environment, not foreseeing the difficulty in having retail business returning to that site after it had become vacant,” he said.

But in 2008, Michigan legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes, and by 2017 the state was moving towards legalizing cannabis for recreational use. It later passed in 2019.

After the attempt to restore the 160,000 square-foot outlet center to a traditional retail site failed, Ms. Harter suggested that it was perfect for growing operations and dispensaries — both of which were setting up around the state.

“We already have a very high usage in Monroe County by marijuana card carriers for medical use. The township has shown great logic in moving toward ordinances allowing for growing and dispensaries,” Mr. Harter said.

“We’re not trying to make this a marijuana heaven. We’re trying to allow access to a product that’s already legal in the state,” he added.

Work to convert the outlet center’s insides into large-scale growing operations has already begun. Work also is proceeding in setting up three dispensaries, one of which will occupy the former Burger King on the outlet center lot.

Mr. Harter’s former partners are one of the groups, known as Terra Lusso LLC, that have rented 15,000 square feet in the center and intends on establishing a growing operation and dispensary. Mr. Harter is acting as an advisor to the partners.

Another group involves a real estate investor in Toledo who is working with a Detroit celebrity, said Mr. Harter, who declined to name them. The third group is headed by a businessman from Detroit, he said.

The groups have preleased nearly 70 percent of the mall’s space.

For now, however, the only thing any of the three groups can do is pay rent, rearrange some of their space, and wait for the township to pass a required ordinance that sets rules by which the growing operations and dispensaries must operate.

There is a moratorium on any marijuana growing or dispensary operation until the ordinance is passed.

“That’s all we’re waiting on now,” Mr. Harter said. “…It will dictate how far from schools we must be and things like that. They need to have these ordinances. If not, it would be pretty much a free-for-all within the state.”

The township tried to pass the ordinances late last year but had to restart the process after some county residents complained that the legislation was not passed correctly.

Alan Barron, Monroe Charter Township’s supervisor, said the refiled ordinances should end up before the township’s April 5 planning commission meeting, have a first public hearing before the township board on April 20, and then a final reading May 18 and likely adoption.

“Our marijuana ordinance will be here soon. There is a company that just pulled a $1.1 million building permit and there’s a couple of places there that are renovating out their space already,” Mr. Barron said. “With these marijuana growing operations and dispensaries, we hope that those businesses will bring other businesses.”

Dispensary customers likely will want other things after they have stopped, such as food or small purchases.

“You know, when you visit Frankenmuth, you don’t just go to Bronner’s [Christmas store]. You visit the other stores or shops down the street,” Mr. Barron said.

“We’re hoping that kind of thing can happen here. And there’s a new bridge [at the I-75 exit] coming. That’s going to be helpful,” he added in reference to a pending Michigan Department of Transportation project to replace the crumbling LaPlaisance bridge over the freeway, which is now reduced to one-way traffic because of its poor condition.

Mr. Barron said over the years there have been all kinds of plans to revive the center, but none ever amounted to anything.

“We were all excited. But I don’t know if the bottom of retail dropped out a bit or what. I really don’t know what happened, but nothing ever came of it,” he said.

David Hinkle, a principal with the Outlet Resource Group of Chicago, a company that provides retail consulting service to operators of outlet malls, said that to the surprise of many who don’t know the industry, outlet centers are thriving right now and accelerating thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Outlets are vibrant. Many are reporting higher visits today due to COVID,” said Mr. Hinkle, who just returned from Oklahoma City where the outlet mall there is doing double the business of the two largest enclosed malls in the area.

Mr. Hinkle said he is well versed in the story of the Manufacturers Market Place/Monroe Factory Shops in Monroe, which now attracts graffiti vandals instead of shoppers.

“You’re looking at assets that are now 30 plus years. It had multiple ownership and capital was not reinvested at all. It lost its vitality,” Mr. Hinkle said. “When business continued to dwindle, it began to spiral.”

Nike shops at many outlet malls are doing extremely well, Mr. Hinkle said. Ironically, one of the original tenants of the Manufacturers Market Place was a Nike shop.

For those outlet centers that have failed, many are being repurposed for office space and other uses. The Monroe scenario is the first Mr. Hinkle has seen for medical and recreational marijuana operations.

Mr. Harter said that at this point, “There’s nothing else that’s going to go out there…. Now you’ve got a chance with these dispensaries coming in to see if other stores might open up. There are many people that are very encouraged by this.”


Posted By: The Toledo Blade on March 28, 2021.  For more information, please click here to read the source article.

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