By Peter H. Milliken
An East Side shopping center that was home to the Mahoning County Department of Job and Family Services for 19 years and became the subject of high-profile court battles concerning the county’s departure from it, is for sale in an online auction.
McGuffey Mall and Garland Plaza, at 795 and 761 N. Garland Ave., respectively, are for sale by auction.com of Newport Beach, Calif., between Oct. 21 and 23, with a $100,000 minimum bid.
“McGuffey Mall and Garland Plaza are not what you would call a core property for us,” said Joe Bell, director of corporate communications for the Cafaro Co., which owns the property.
“The bulk of our portfolio involves enclosed shopping malls and large community outdoor shopping centers,” he said.
“We feel it’s in the best interests of the property to see if someone else locally would have some ideas for redeveloping it,” he said of the McGuffey-Garland site.
Although the property has had a for-sale sign in front of it for about a year, the auction is the first active attempt to market it nationally, Bell said, adding that he thinks an online auction is “probably the truest way to establish its real value.”
The two one-story buildings contain 238,194 square feet, of which 229,181 is rentable, and they occupy a 22-acre site.
The county’s Department of Job and Family Services occupied rented quarters at Garland Plaza from 1988 until 2007, when JFS moved to Oakhill Renaissance Place, which the county had bought in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in 2006.
Oakhill is the former Forum Health Southside Medical Center.
When the county left Garland, the Cafaro Co. filed two civil lawsuits against the county.
One was an unsuccessful taxpayer lawsuit to rescind the county’s purchase of Oakhill.
The other was a breach- of-lease lawsuit alleging the county failed to fulfill its maintenance obligations at Garland Plaza.
In September 2007, the county commissioners agreed to pay the Cafaro Co. $913,590 to settle the breach- of-lease suit in exchange for an agreement by the Cafaro Co. to forgo an appeal of the company’s loss in the trial of the taxpayer suit.
Just before it left Garland, the county’s rent for JFS quarters there, which totaled about 97,000 square feet, was $449,000 a year.
In 2010, Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., former president of the Cafaro Co., two of the company’s affiliates, and several county officials were indicted by a Mahoning County grand jury on charges they conspired criminally to impede the move of JFS to Oakhill.
Special prosecutors dropped those charges in July 2011 because they could not obtain tapes from the FBI that had to be shared with the defense.
Built in 1954, McGuffey Plaza was one of the first developments of William M. Cafaro, founder of the Cafaro Co. Garland Plaza was built in 1960.
McGuffey Plaza, which became McGuffey Mall after a $1.8 million renovation in 1972, was once home to major retailers, including A&P and Loblaw supermarkets and Woolworths.
In 2003, McGuffey Mall got a significant facelift as the Cafaro Co. installed new sliding glass entrance doors, painted parking lot lighting poles, spruced up the mall’s pylon sign, filled holes in the parking lot and painted and cleaned interior common areas.
At that time, Al George, the company’s vice president for real estate, who has since retired, said local businesses and organizations constituted the mall’s main potential tenant market.
A full page ad for the auction in Sunday’s Vindicator characterized the sale as a “redevelopment opportunity” and said the commercial property was designed as a retail center, but is also suitable for office or warehouse use.
The auction.com website says the property was 10.53 percent occupied as of Aug. 19, 2013.
McGuffey Mall is empty and the only Garland Plaza occupant is K & P Sportswear.
“Commercial space in that area does not rent very easily,” Bell said, adding that such space there “has languished a bit since the heyday of the 1960s.”
City Councilwoman Annie Gillam, D-1st, whose ward abuts the property, noted that Bottom Dollar had considered the East Side site for one of its food stores, but never established one there, and she hopes it can now reconsider the location.
“It’s a shame that the people from this area have to travel to find amenities,” such as drug stores and full-service food stores, Gillam said.
The East Side property has ample parking and can be used for retail, office or warehouse purposes, Bell said, adding that Garland’s former bowling alley could become an entertainment venue. “It can be re-configured and re-purposed pretty easily,” he said of the property.
Potential buyers wishing to inspect the property before the auction may do so by appointment by calling Brian Beck, the property’s agent, at Cafaro Co. headquarters in Youngstown, Bell said.