Cincinnati enlists downtown stakeholders in fight to retain Saks Fifth Avenue

Downtown department store ponders move to Kenwood

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CINCINNATI - The city of Cincinnati is organizing a meeting of “key stakeholders” in the Race Street corridor downtown, with the goal of planning public and private improvements to attract and retain retail tenants.

The effort is part of the city’s strategy to retain Saks Fifth Avenue, the downtown department store that is said to be pondering a move to Kenwood.

“What we’re trying to do is put together a coordinated tightly knit approach for how we go to the market,” said Jeff McElravy, interim director of the city’s department of trade and development. “It’s going to take a lot of work before we start engaging with the retailers that we think would be a good fit for that corridor.”

McElravy said no date has been set for the planning session, which is being organized by its retail consultant Kathleen Norris. The managing principal of Urban Fast Forward was hired to produce market analysis, lease city-owned retail space and craft a new marketing plan for the Race Street corridor, McElravy said.

Developer Arn Bortz will be among the downtown stakeholders participating in the planning session. The principal at Towne Properties LLC has been trying to talk Macy’s Inc. into a lease extension at Fountain Place, a retail complex that is catty-corner to Saks at the intersection of Fifth and Race streets.

“Macy’s is trying to be helpful to the city in persuading Saks that they should stay,” Bortz said. “They’ve been very supportive of this marketing initiative. They plan to participate in it. That to me is a positive sign.”

As WCPO reported in September, Saks is being courted by the developer of Kenwood Collection, a retail and office complex that used to be known as Kenwood Towne Place. Neither Saks nor developer David Birdsall have confirmed the discussions. But a leasing agent working on the development said he hoped to wrap up his tenant roster by December.

Bortz was among several downtown business leaders who wrote to Saks in September, urging the retailer to stay downtown long enough to benefit from a series of planned improvements near the Fifth and Race corner. Those include a $122 million U.S. headquarters for Dunnhumby USA, which will bring more than 650 employees and retail space totaling 27,000 square feet to Race Street. In addition, nearly 1,000 new apartment units are planned within four blocks of Saks, including an 18-story, 186-unit apartment building above Macy’s.

Bortz said he participated in the letter-writing campaign at the city’s request.

“You just can’t sit on the sidelines and wait for a press release from Saks,” he said. “You’ve got to take the initiative and that’s what a number of us are trying to do.”

McElravy said letters were also penned by Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. and Flaherty & Collins, an Indianapolis developer that’s building 300 apartment units and a 15,000-square-foot grocery store at Fourth and Race.

McElravy said Saks has not responded to the city’s overture.

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