What the new Middletown Chipotle means for the future of the Towne Mall area

The new Chipotle coming to Middletown will go into an area that has seen activity near the Towne Mall, which officials hope to revive in the coming years.

The Middletown Planning Commission last week approved the final development plan for a proposed 2,400-square-foot restaurant on the northeast corner of the Gabe’s store parking lot at Towne Boulevard and Pendleton Circle.

Orlando, Fla.-based Byblos Development Ohio said construction could begin in June, and that the restaurant could be open for business sometime this fall. Chipotle also is in the process of building a restaurant in Hamilton.

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The Middletown location will come to an area that has seen development in recent years. In August 2014, Towne Mall owners received approval to build seven new out-buildings in the area surrounding the mall that was being used for parking.

Tenants include Aspen Dental, GNC, Sport Clips and Buffalo Wild Wings, and the project was completed in early 2016. The Chipotle would sit north of those businesses.

Towne Mall Galleria, located just off Ohio 122 in Middletown, is at the center of a highly competitive retail corridor stretching from Dayton to Cincinnati along Interstate 75. The Dayton Mall, Austin Landing, Cincinnati Premium Outlets and the new $350 million mega retail development, Liberty Center, are all within a 20-minute drive of the mall.

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Jennifer Ekey, Middletown’s economic development director, said the city and owners of Towne Mall Galleria, a California investment group led by George Ragheb, are working to revise the development plan for the mall.

“All redevelopment is slow, and with retail development, it’s never going to be what it used to be because people are shopping differently and online,” she said. “We’re working with them to reinvent the mall with a project that would encompass the entire mall property, including the outlots.”

Ekey said there are two to three more outlot parcels that could be developed in addition to the existing mall space and the remaining anchor spaces that once housed Elder-Beerman and Sears.

“Right now we’re in the redevelopment stages and looking for financing,” Ekey said. “It would be a really great project for Middletown and would create other opportunities.”

Ragheb’s group, SA Mary Ohio LLC purchased the Towne Mall for $850,000 in 2012. The 465,451 square-foot mall opened in 1977 and many stores have closed or relocated. In August 2013, the investment group spent $1.25 million to purchase the former Elder-Beerman store that closed in January 2017.

In 2015, Burlington opened in one-half of the more 110,000 square-foot building that housed Dillard’s Department store, which closed in 2008. Later that year, Gabe’s opened in the other half of that building. Both companies signed 11-year leases.

Planet Fitness opened in January 2016 and occupies 26,614 square feet of the mall, signifying about a $3 million in investment.

In April 2017, Phoenicia Development of Orlando, Fla., through Byblos Development Ohio purchased the portion of the mall that now houses Gabe’s and Burlington stores for $8.25 million. Later in 2017, Byblos Development Ohio also constructed and opened the new outlot section that is the home to Buffalo Wild Wings, Sport Clips, GNC, T-Mobile and Aspen Dental Group.

In September 2017, the 63,709 square-foot Sears store closed as part of a national closing of more than 250 stores nationwide.

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City officials said the proposed Chipotle restaurant will feature a pickup-only window for food orders made in advance through a mobile device or online.

According to Business Insider, Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol told investors during a Feb. 6 call that Chipotle planned to open “a few dozen more” mobile-order pickup lanes, called “Chipotolanes.” The company has already added a “Chipotolane” to 10 of its U.S. restaurants, according to Business Insider.

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After placing the order, customers are to pull up to a window at the specified pickup time, allowing them to pick up orders without leaving their car.

Chipotle was identified as a highly desired restaurant by city residents who participated in the 2017 “What If” Middletown visioning community outreach survey. The “What if Middletown” visioning process was an initial step to publicize the Master Plan and other community planning processes.

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