Shoppers return to new-look Tech Plaza

By: Brian Louwers, | Warren Weekly | Published March 18, 2016

WARREN — Crowds were lining up early on St. Patrick’s Day, not for green beer or corned beef and cabbage, but for a grand-opening celebration at the new Marshalls store at Warren’s reborn Tech Plaza shopping center. 

What they found when they arrived, in addition to good deals, was an early glimpse at what looks to be a major turnaround for the once-fledgling plaza, a place that flourished for years after it opened in 1960 at the corner of 12 Mile and Van Dyke, before it fell on hard times in the mid-2000s.

In 2008, Wal-Mart became the last major retailer to leave when it pulled out of its leased space on the west end of the property. The company returned with a new store at the same location in 2014, and developer Tom Petzold, president of Petzold Enterprises and Tech Plaza LLC, bought the plaza’s remaining 130,000 square feet of space.

 Faysan Amin, 18, of Warren, got his first job at Marshalls prior to its March 17 grand opening, where he greeted shoppers who showed up early to check out the new store.

Faysan Amin, 18, of Warren, got his first job at Marshalls prior to its March 17 grand opening, where he greeted shoppers who showed up early to check out the new store.

Photo by Brian Louwers

After months of renovation that transformed the look, feel and, slightly, the layout of the plaza, Petzold’s plans are coming to fruition this year with a string of new tenant openings. The shopping center, not including Wal-Mart, now includes 142,000 square feet of retail space, plus 22,000 square feet that will be built to suit a future tenant.

Ulta Beauty, DSW and Five Below are among the major retailers now setting up shop at Tech Plaza. 

“Right now, we’re probably about 55 percent leased. With these and the ones that are in the process, we can be at 70 percent soon,” Petzold said March 17.

The property features a contemporary look that satisfies the specific requirements of his tenants and accommodates upscale finishes. What’s more, he said the layout is user-friendly for shoppers who want to visit multiple stores. 

“What we’ve done is we’ve made an emphasis on walkability. That’s why having the canopy built the way we did is going to foster people cross-shopping multiple stores. The L-shape of the building helps to bring it all together,” Petzold said. 

Of the original tenants of the site from the property purchased by Petzold, only H&R Block remains, now in a space on the southeast edge of the shopping center. 

Petzold said his team was patient as it sought the right mix of retailers for Tech Plaza, which he said will serve the needs of those living in the surrounding community. 

“It was the residential community that drove this. We didn’t know for sure that this was going to be a shopping center for all the employees of TACOM and GM. To us, if we can get it to work for them, great. But the main goal for us, when we looked at our centers, they’re in really central locations in the town they’re in, just like this, and their tenant mixes are geared toward servicing the needs of the residential base within the first 1, 2 or 3 miles. That’s where we felt there was a real need, that the quality of this kind of retail didn’t exist in Warren, and there hadn’t been this kind of an investment. We thought there was a real opportunity.”
Petzold said something else became clear about Tech Plaza: The brand was unique and recognizable. That’s why even though the old signage came down when Wal-Mart returned, he had his architect design a new sign that rises in 4-foot letters 40 feet above the shopping center’s northeast corner. 

“The Tech Plaza has a real brand identity, not just in Warren but around the region,” Petzold said. “That was important to us to get that name and not lose that identity, and that’s kind of unusual. I think in the shopping center industry, the name of the shopping center isn’t really that important. Sometimes people don’t really know the name. But this one, the name of it really has a value.”

Ongoing plans at the site include increasing the area’s walkability even more by tying it into Warren’s developing downtown area, near City Hall and City Square, across Van Dyke from the General Motors Technical Center. Opening a road from neighborhoods north of the plaza where there is parking now, something that didn’t exist previously, will add even more access to the site. 

An empty footprint near the Tech Plaza sign still exists, and Petzold said the property will be built to suit the needs of the eventual tenant, possibly a fitness center. 

Not only does the center serve the surrounding community with retail, it’s also providing an immediate impact through jobs. 

Stewart Napier just opened the Penn Station East Coast Subs shop at Tech Plaza in February. It is the fifth store he owns in metro Detroit and it was, he said, by far the easiest for him to staff with employees.

“It was a very big concern going into this restaurant, needing to hire 30 people, that we were going to struggle. Surprisingly, we did not,” said Napier, of Warren. “The majority of all the candidates that applied all lived in the area, or shopped in the area. I believe out of the 28 people that we hired, only six live outside the city of Warren, which is extremely unusual. I hadn’t had that type of success at any of the previous four restaurants that we opened.

“I was very, very impressed,” Napier said. “In fact, we staffed this restaurant in just eight days.”