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Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2005 01:55 am

Chopped down

Plans scrapped for Cherry Grove Shoppes project

In February, Garrison Group Inc. president Todd Smith unveiled a plan to develop a 3-acre high-end shopping center at the corner of South Grand and MacArthur avenues, where the vacant Esquire Theatre now stands. On Nov. 30, Kerasotes, the Springfield-based movie-theater chain that owns the site, declined to extend an option, in effect killing the project that many thought would be a major catalyst to reversing years of economic decline [see Todd Spivak, “Man with a plan,” Feb. 24]. Kathleen Sorensen, president of Washington Park-Knolls Association, who worked with Smith to see the project to fruition, hadn’t heard the news until she spoke with Illinois Times. “Wow,” Sorensen says in disbelief. “I am disappointed, and I’m sure that’s how everyone else feels.”
Sorensen had hoped the project would improve aesthetic appeal on MacArthur and set the pace for more upscale development in the area. Smith, too, wanted the project to serve as a model for other developers looking to build in the inner city. “It’s a unique property,” Smith says. “We were trying to develop a very unique, specialized piece of property, and that takes time.”
Kerasotes did not respond to requests for comment. However, Smith, who had been courting potential users of the property, speculates that the company simply decided to put the property back on the market to gauge interest.  Though Smith says that he “certainly understands that is the property owner’s call,” his company had invested exploration money in traffic studies, infrastructure planning, professional design studies, and hiring an architectural firm. He won’t give a dollar figure on how much his firm spent and cannot now be recouped, just that it was “tens of thousands.”
 “Call it the expense of learning,” he adds. Meanwhile, Smith says that he isn’t quite ready to give up on the MacArthur site. “We believe strongly in that specific location,” he says. “In looking back on the project, my hope is that we were at least successful in raising the awareness of positive development of neighborhood retail in Springfield. “That location is a good location, and something will happen with it.”
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