AKRON, Ohio — The transformation of Chapel Hill Mall from a retail establishment into a light industrial complex is gaining momentum, according to Cleveland-based Industrial Commercial Properties LLC.
ICP purchased and began renovating 60 acres of the mall’s 72-acre property in early 2021, working with the city to rezone the site to allow some types of commercial, retail and residential operations.
Driverge Vehicle Innovations, a subsidiary of Richfield-based MobilityWorks, will move in and occupy 150,000 square feet of the Chapel Hill Business Park, ICP said in a release.
Driverge will co-anchor the business park with Famous Supply’s Craft33 cabinet-manufacturing operation, which occupies the former Sears building and is expanding, ICP said. Storage America bought the former Macy’s parcel on the north end of the mall in 2018.
The business park is located at 2000 Brittain Road near Ohio Route 8 in Akron, bordering Cuyahoga Falls and Tallmadge.
MobilityWorks has grown since it launched in a North Akron office in 1997, and now has four manufacturing facilities and 95 stores, the company said. Owned by Flexpoint Ford, MobilityWorks/Driverge manufactures wheelchair-accessible vehicles, and is an upfitter for Ford Transits, Mercedes-Benz USA and Dodge/Chrysler – Stellantis.
“Our team has built an incredible, national business with such an amazing mission based on serving others, and it started and endures here in Akron,” said Mark Minatel, Driverge Vehicle Innovations president. “Our business continues to grow and through the vision of ICP and in partnership with our local and state governments, we will continue to invest, innovate and create jobs in this community.”
With the addition of Driverge, 58% of the Chapel Hill Business Park has been redeveloped and leased since ICP took ownership, the company said.
“Driverge is the perfect user for this type of space,” said Chris Semarjian, who owns ICP. “It is an ideal light assembly business and having a location in Akron was important to them.”
Driverge began site selection for its manufacturing facility more than three years ago, coming back to Chapel Hill after looking at facilities across the country, said Chris Paczak, ICP’s chief marketing officer.
“It was challenging to design and engineer assembly lines inside of a former mall, but with the creative mindset and collaborative efforts of ICP, we were able to make this vision a reality,” Paczak said.
ICP has purchased other local complexes to turn into industrial facilities.
In 2016, ICP acquired the main parcel of Randall Park Mall to the north, incrementally adding parcels, demolishing some and renovating others, the company said. In 2018, an Amazon fulfillment center opened there, while a separate structure houses industrial tenants.
ICP also redeveloped Akron’s East End, the former world headquarters of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. The site now houses corporate headquarters for Babcock & Wilcox and health insurer Summa Care. The Goodyear Theatre, restaurants and a gym are also located there.
ICP has had success in turning former retail properties into multi-tenant business parks because demand for industrial space is “robust,” Semarjian said.
In acquiring the Chapel Hill, ICP worked within the parameters of the city of Akron’s Chapel Hill redevelopment plan, which stipulated, among other things, the site would not house auto sales, car repair shops, trash haulers, kennels or businesses that generate fumes or noise.
The city also assisted ICP in securing tax-increment financing on about $1.5 million of the acquisition costs.
ICP said it would invest $20 million in renovations to the interior and exterior of the property, including about $6 million in landscaping and greenery.
Chapel Hill Mall was built in 1967. It was a popular shopping destination until 2016, when its anchor stores– Sears, Macy’s and JC Penney– closed and the mall began to fail.