Moxie Executive Director Mike Stevens is preparing to move the independent theater to 305 S. Campbell Ave. this month. The theater is one of three tenants vacating Wilhoit Plaza within three months.
Wilhoit Plaza loses anchor tenants
Three tenants are exiting downtown’s Wilhoit Plaza within a three-month period and property managers are working to fill the void.
Longtime tenants Moxie Cinema and Farmers Gastropub decided to pull up stakes and seek greener pastures, and antique retailer Funtiques Market also is planning to leave by March.
Matt Miller of building owner Matt Miller Co. said the theater and pub anchor tenants independently chose not to renew their leases.
“It’s unusual that we have these two big tenants that have moved on at the same time,” he said. “They grew in a different direction, but I’m glad we were part of the party as long as we were.”
Farmers Gastropub was the first to make a move, when owner Bill Griffiths decided to chase a south-side customer base.
“Most of my clientele live on the south side. They would visit downtown to come to my restaurant, but most of them live in this part of the world,” Griffiths said from his new Brentwood Center digs.
Since Dec. 30, Griffiths has run the locally sourced English pub at the north end of the Brentwood Center, 2620 S. Glenstone Ave., across from Battlefield Mall.
Moxie Executive Director Mike Stevens said the independent theater group’s five-year lease was up in October, and last year, with the end of the lease approaching, the nonprofit’s board decided to entertain other possibilities. The College Station Lofts under development hit the radar.
“The board just fell in love with the place,” Stevens said of Moxie’s new home on the lower level of 305 S. Campbell Ave. “It was really the direction they were wanting to go with the parking and the location on Campbell, which is a pretty busy stretch.”
With theater seating arriving last week, he said Moxie should move in about a month.
“The covered parking goes straight into our lobby. The elevator bank opens into our lobby, which in this kind of weather is pretty priceless because a lot of people don’t want to have to vault over snow banks to get out of their car and onto the sidewalk,” Stevens said.
He said the move is not based on climbing lease rates or issues with the landlord. Matt Miller Co. extended the lease a few months until the new property is available.
Working with commercial real estate agent Ken Schwab of Wilhoit Properties, Miller said the team secured a verbal commitment with a new business planning to occupy the former Farmers Gastropub space. Also, Springfield Contemporary Theatre signed on to temporarily fill the Funtiques spot, and at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Pershing Street, BYO Pizza set up shop in the former Casablanca Bistro restaurant space.
Miller said 83 percent of the commercial building is full, pending a signed lease for the former Farmers Gastropub space. He expects a deal this month that would push the occupancy rate to 88 percent. Five years ago, Wilhoit Plaza was at 94 percent, and since then, companies that have turned over space include Casablanca Bistro, Mosaic Salon and Day Spa, Merle’s Hot Dog Emporium and Lili’s Diner.
Declining to disclose tenant lease rates, Miller said Wilhoit Plaza’s rates are equal or slightly above 2008 levels.
Though Griffiths declined to disclose the lease rate on his three-year agreement with Gillenwaters Developers, he said the rent and square footage were each a little less at the Brentwood locale. The 3,800-square-foot spot also has the advantages of a larger kitchen and more vehicle traffic.
“My dream for many years was to own a pub restaurant. In the space downtown, we made it as much like a pub as we could, but it wasn’t really conducive because of the high ceilings and everything, but what we’ve got now is a space that is very much a copy of an English country pub,” said Griffiths, who invested more than $500,000 in the move.
Moxie’s Stevens said the College Station Lofts space would have roughly the same capacity, but based on the layout, there is room for wider theater seats.
“We are losing our historic seats, which our patrons call ‘the uncomfortable seats,’” he said, adding Wilhoit Plaza was a dramatic improvement compared to the original 408 W. Walnut St. site. “It has been a good location, but when we looked around, we were very excited to see the new space happening.”
Miller said as a downtown property owner and proponent, he is glad at least the theater would still be drawing visitors to the area.
“Of course, we wanted to keep them. We’re in business to keep our buildings full,” Miller said. “It’s unfortunate that they’re leaving, but new buildings are brighter and shinier, man.”[[In-content Ad]]