Three prominent abandoned properties in Marion are currently experiencing different fates. For one, the building has been purchased and repurposed; for another, the site is under new ownership, but the building is being demolished; and a third continues to languish.
1500 S. Western Ave
One abandoned complex, the former site of Hobby Lobby at 1500 S. Western Ave., is being resurrected by Tree of Life.
The building has had 50-75 employees working inside it since April, and CEO Darren Campbell is aiming for a mid-to-late-September opening for both the Tree of Life retail store and The Abbey Coffee Company.
“We hope to have a soft opening in September, followed by a grand opening in October,” he said.
Tree of Life’s current retail store, located on 37th and the Bypass, will close Aug. 27, and they’re already in the midst of a major sale to unload inventory. In the period between that closing and the new opening, customers in need of assistance can visit Tree of Life’s bookstores on the campuses of Indiana Wesleyan University or Taylor University.
Tree of Life’s offices moved from 4601 S. Western Ave. to the new location in April, and their distribution center became active around that same time, he said. They sold their former office location to Armes-Hunt Funeral Home.
Campbell said this is a busy time of year for Tree of Life with the back-to-school rush in full effect.
“We’re working very long days,” he said.
Currently, crews are paving the parking lot, which should be ready in about two weeks, he said. There is also dry-walling and painting occurring inside.
Tree of Life won’t be the only inhabitant in the sprawling facility, which measures over 100,000 square feet. Campbell has been in contact with multiple interested parties about moving in, but there is nothing confirmed yet. Ultimately, the place will function like a “strip mall.”
There is a 38,000-square-foot section that would fit a big-box store, he said, plus another 14,000-square-feet that could be subdivided based on space needs. The Tree of Life retail store will be about 4,000-square-feet, while the coffee shop — complete with on-site coffee roasting, a fireplace and a mezzanine — will occupy another 2,000-square feet.
All together, Tree of Life related business will utilize about 70,000-square-feet of the building, with the remaining space being left for other businesses.
“We’re very excited about it because it’s a property right in the middle of one of the busiest shopping areas of our city,” Mayor Wayne Seybold said in April. “When I was a kid, it was a Kmart, and I think it was a junkyard before that.”
“It’s in the right hands now,” he added. “Darren and Tree of Life will do really good in that area.”
Tree of Life began work on the former Hobby Lobby premises in January, which included replacing the entire 138,000-square-foot roof as well as interior demolition and electrical systems.
At that time, Campbell said his company planned to spend $2.5 million in renovations for the site, which had been owned by the Chinese company YK Furniture.
In February 2010, the redevelopment commission purchased the former Hobby Lobby and Kmart building for $1.5 million to secure the deal with YK Furniture.
When announced in 2010, YK Furniture planned to turn the building into an operating furniture warehouse and showroom by 2011 and create 100 jobs within four years.
In March 2012, Campbell told the council his company was looking for a suitable location and kept coming back to the corner of 16th Street and the Bypass, and he also acknowledged considering other locations outside Marion.
Tree of Life announced plans to purchase the site from YK in March 2012.
During the next month, the Marion City Council approved up to $10 million in economic development revenue bonds to assist the company in its long term plans for the location.
Tree of Life purchased the former Hobby Lobby building with its contents, which included more than 100 pieces of unsold furniture from YK Furniture.
Lisa Dominisse, the city’s development director, said — in hindsight — it was for the best that YK didn’t move in because it allowed Tree of Life to take over.
Another location being filled is the former Thomson plant — located at 3301 S. Adams St. — though Café Valley is really filling the site much more than the physical structure, most of which has been or is being torn down.
When the Thomson plant closed in 2004, it left about 1,000 people out of work. It had belonged to General Electric — and, before that, RCA — before Thomson took over. A June 13, 2007, fire destroyed the most historic portion of the facility.
Café Valley’s plans call for the $48 million Café Valley facility to open early in 2014 with production to begin later in the year. The plan is for the building to be raised and the roof to be on in November, with bakery equipment installation in January and the first production run in March.
The company, which is based in Phoenix and had its Marion groundbreaking May 30, expects their Marion facility to be operational in March 2014. The bakery is in the earliest stages of its hiring search but expects to employ 200 associates during its first year.
Tim Eckerle, executive director of the Grant County Economic Growth Council, admitted he didn’t initially see the same vision Café Valley CEO/President Ron Ogan saw when looking at the property.
But now, “That will be a statement property,” he said. “People will be impressed as they drive past.”
One building that isn’t so fortunate is located at 4512 S. Adams St., the spot Marsh Supermarket departed early this year.
While they market all available sites in the area, Eckerle admitted the growth council focuses more on office and industrial properties, rather than retail, and he acknowledged “commercial properties don’t move quickly.”
Dominisse said no one has shown an interest in the property since she’s been onboard with the city, though she feels it is in a good location with Indiana Wesleyan University so close by.
“We need to find the right niche to be in that university market,” she said. “What would students want?”
She added that the best course of action might be splitting the building up for many uses, like Tree of Life did at their new location.