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Lakeside Circle, Sterling businesses adapt to coronavirus age

Sterling Heights Sentry | Published April 29, 2020

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Whether retail or restaurant, businesses in Sterling Heights have taken drastic measures to stay ahead of the economic destruction caused by the novel coronavirus, the fear of catching it and the related government-ordered shutdowns.

Lakeside Mall’s landlord, the commercial real estate fund Out of the Box Ventures, is cutting mall tenants’ rents in April and May, except for their common area maintenance fees, according to spokeswoman Ashley Spitz. 

Spitz said that this should offer an average savings of between 60% and 70%. They said even more savings might be available if government or private aid arrives.

Out of the Box Ventures, a subsidiary of the Florida-based Lionheart Capital, acquired Lakeside Mall last year. It calls the current economic trends “unprecedented,” and Lionheart CEO Ophir Sternberg said in a statement that his company is committed to helping its tenants succeed because everyone is in the same boat. 

“We are asking that the tenants who elect to participate in this offering only pay their share of common area maintenance fees and taxes, with no obligation to repay the balance of their rent for April and May,” he said.

Spitz said Lakeside’s tenants have been “very appreciative” of the rent relief program. She added that the firm is awaiting Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s word on when the mall may resume business.

Spitz also discussed the future of some plans for Lakeside Mall that Out of the Box Ventures announced in late February. Out of the Box Ventures had hoped to install an ice skating rink inside the mall in late spring and create new murals at the property. They also had wanted to hold a food truck event at the mall in late spring. 

While those plans may be delayed because “the timeline for all that has shifted,” they have not been taken off the table, she explained.

“We are very excited to reopen whenever the state allows us to do that,” Spitz said. “Absolutely, the ice skating rink and everything is moving forward. ... We will be reopening, and we are very excited about our plans.” 

Sterling Heights Senior Economic Development Adviser Luke Bonner said that if businesses are going to get through this wave of economic uncertainty, they and landlords will need to find common ground. 

“Relationships are really important, so the idea is that retailers can work with their landlord to understand what the landlord is going through, (and) the landlord understands what the tenant is going through, so they can work on solutions together,” he said. 

Bonner attributed some of the present economic uncertainty to people “kind of hunkering down and going to what they always go to,” mixed with people prioritizing their spending, especially amid a “significant swath of unemployment.” 

“There is clearly a situation that is preventing a lot of these businesses from doing anything,” he said. You’re seeing a lot of restaurants do everything they can to be promoting themselves, making deliveries available. 

“What you’re seeing is people are ordering out from their favorite restaurants ... and by having to stay home, and then not driving and doing this and doing that and seeing family and friends, those other businesses that had to rely more on the drive-by customers and the going-out-to-lunch customers, those ones might be forgotten about.”

Stacy Penix, a division president at Steak ‘n Shake in Sterling Heights, said the chain’s Lakeside Circle location is independent from the nearby mall. 

She explained that while “it's certainly been a challenge as we had to close our dining rooms and quickly pivot our focus to takeout and drive-thru service,” the restaurant chain has adapted to dine-in closure orders. She said it has launched promotions that include family meal deals, a milkshake Happy Hour and a “free fries” drive-thru promotion.

"In terms of employees — we're following all precautionary health and safety measures that have been suggested by the CDC,” she said.

“We are committed to being there for our community, whether that be our Steak 'n Shake regulars that we see on a weekly basis or brand-new customers in search of affordable, high-quality meals. It's a difficult time for all, but our employees are dedicated, and our customers are patient and grateful."

Bonner also offered some predictions about the Lakeside area. For years, Sterling Heights city officials have sought a vision that could redevelop the area into a mixed-use development complete with walkability features.

“I think what will have to happen, I think, is there is going to be the new reality that kind of comes back in, and people will have to get an idea of the landscape,” Bonner said. 

“Before this happened, the economy was really hot. What kind of impact will this have? Will it be long lasting? Will it be short term? I think either is a period of time that is going to have to flesh itself out.

“But after that, one of the things that was kind of universal about Lakeside’s future was that whatever ends up happening there, the predominant future of that was not going to be retail.”

Bonner said the Lakeside area will eventually be “right sized for the market” through the introduction of residential, office and recreation-based properties. But he predicted that won’t take place until there is “confidence that things aren’t going to be shaken again.” 

Find out more about Out of the Box Ventures by visiting www.ootbventures.com. Learn more about Lakeside Mall by visiting www.shop-lakesidemall.com. For Steak ‘n Shake, visit steaknshake.com. For more information about Sterling Heights, visit www.sterling-heights.net.

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