Tri-County fights back against Liberty Center

Posted at 1:53 PM, Oct 15, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-15 13:53:29-04

CORRECTION: Purchase price modified.

CINCINNATI - A celebrity investor from Los Angeles has acquired Tri-County Towne Center for $24.3 million in what some see as a sign of strength for a corner of the real estate market threatened by explosive growth in Butler County.

“Liberty Center will be the hot commodity for a while,” said Terry Ohnmeis, a retail specialist for the real estate brokerage firm Cushman & Wakefield. “But Tri-County still has a lot of geographic advantages in its favor.”

Hamilton County records show the 260,000-square-foot retail center on Princeton Pike across from Tri-County Mall was sold Oct. 2 to an affiliate of ACF Property Management in Studio City, California. The company manages more than $1.5 billion in commercial real estate investments, according to the Linked In bio page of founder Alan C. Fox, author of “People Tools” and a self-described entrepreneur, philanthropist and "game changer."

Alan C. Fox

Fox could not be reached for comment.

The Gilhart family, which owned the center for decades, told Springdale Economic Development Director Christine Russell that the new owner plans no major changes. Property Manager Clark Gilhart did not return WCPO's call.

“What I’ve been told is that they plan to continue operating it,” Russell said. “They liked it because it’s such a strong center.”

The sale price is more than double its $8.7 million appraised value as set by Hamilton County’s auditor. In 2010, owners of the center, formerly known as Princeton Plaza, received a 20 percent reduction in its taxable value by challenging the auditor’s valuation in the Hamilton County Board of Revisions, records show.

Tri-County Mall was last sold at a steep discount in a 2013 foreclosure auction. Oregon-based American Pacific International Capital paid $45 million for the property, which sold for $179.5 million in 2005. American Pacific has since announced a $35 million renovation plan for the 1.3 million-square-foot mall, bringing tenants closer to Princeton Pike and adding amenities like a new children's play area.

The Tri-County area is in flux because of the $350 million Liberty Center project, the Streets of West Chester and several smaller developments on the I-75 corridor. The projects have pulled big retail anchors like Dick’s, Dillard’s and Bass Pro Shops from Forest Park and Tri-County.

The Springdale area’s “ability to attract that new-to-market tenant at least for the next year or two is going to face insurmountable competition from Liberty Center, until we’re certain how that shakes out,” Ohnmeis said.

But retail tenants have shown a willingness to move within Cincinnati to “A-Plus sites” with “higher visibility and better exposure.” That’s what makes Tri-County Towne Center an attractive site, with visibility on Princeton Pike and Kemper Road and a roster of tenants that includes Hobby Lobby, Office Depot and Jared Jewelers, along with restaurant tenants First Watch, La Rosa’s, McDonald’s and Noodles & Company.

“I’ve always liked that center. You’re at the corner of Main and Main there,” Ohnmeis said. “If there’s vacancy there, it’s usually filled fairly quickly.”