Some commercial realty gone but not replaced - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Some commercial realty gone but not replaced

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By Len Kiese - bio | email

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - It's a common site in all parts of Albany--big retail locations that have no retailers in them. Whether they've gone bankrupt or just left town, a lot of major stores have disappeared.

Though retail is vital to our local economy, economic development leaders have their hands full trying to replace industry like Bob's Candies, Merck Chemical and soon Cooper Tire. The Economic Development Commission says that's their main job--focusing on recruiting new industry and expanding the ones that already exist.

You can blame it on the bad economy.  Many Albany stores have shut their doors and they've sat empty ever since. Two of those empty shells sit next to El Maya Restaurant on Old Dawson Road. "Goody's has been closed since the beginning of the year and Rugged Wearhouse has been closed for a lot longer than that," said El Maya Manager Tony Diaz.

With two vacant neighbors, Diaz notices a slight difference in foot traffic. "You have to be concerned about your business but you'd like to have the additional foot traffic but there's nothing you can really do about it with the way the economy is now. That's a lot of rent for a big space like that and companies are looking to shut down stores rather than open up new ones," said Diaz.

Several big retail spots are up for grabs in Albany. The old Circuit City building remains empty. On the same street, an old Office Max has been available for years. "The EDC continues to be on its path of attracting and expanding industry," said Barbara Rivera-Holmes with the Economic Development Commission.

While the Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission's main job is to expand the local economy, the focus right now is not on retail. "We do track retail but as far as our focus, it's not one of our priorities," said Holmes.

City and county leaders came up with a strategic plan that details their four main priorities. "That's healthcare, manufacturing, defense and logistics and we have customer care and professional call centers so retail doesn't specifically fall within our four target markets," said Holmes.

Although it's not a target, the EDC does think filling the empty spots around town is important.

"We look at it as an opportunity. It's an opportunity to see what can be put in that building, what can we fill it with. But our job right now is expansion and recruitment," said Holmes.

Until life comes back to these stores, there will continue to be fewer hungry shoppers at El Maya. "It's a prime location on a really good street so I'm figuring eventually something will move in there," said Diaz. But with a lack of a focus on retail combined with a bad economy, there's no telling how soon.

The EDC says companies research different cities like Albany. They look at things like population and need, then decide if it's a good fit.

Population can grow if the EDC does in fact expand some of the existing companies.  80-percent of new jobs are created by existing businesses.

EDC leaders say while they aren't actively recruiting retailers, they will work with retailers who express an interest in Albany. They say they also helped  bring Kohl's Department Store to the area.

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