Official: Liberty Center in ‘much better shape’ to withstand retail closures

The firm tasked with filling retail space at $350 million Liberty Center is familiar with what it takes to make such a development work, according to the company’s leader.

With a "high-quality" portfolio that is "heavy on the mixed-use side," Bayer Properties handles 19 assets and more than 10 million square feet of retail and office space nationwide, said Bayer President Libby Lassiter. All are approximately 95 percent or more leased and many include hotel, residential and other uses.

"What's so important about that is that we can get the attention of retailers," Lassiter said Thursday during a presentation to Liberty Community Authority, a government agency formed in 2013. "The retailers that should be in Liberty, we're in front of them daily."

Alabama-based Bayer took over leasing of the site Dec. 1 after property owner Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance switched from Chicago-based professional services and investment management company JLL.

MORE: Liberty Center changes management, marketing company

Liberty Center’s community-focused development includes 860,000 square feet of retail space. It is Bayer’s first property assignment in Ohio. With the addition of Liberty Center, Bayer Properties expanded its portfolio by more than two million square feet in 2019.

Lassiter said struggling retailers closing stores at the site “has nothing to do with Liberty” and is caused by companies failing to adapt to a rapidly changing retail environment.

“It’s the Amazon effect and it’s their own effect as well because they’re not doing a great job, they’re not keeping up with what’s going on,” she said.

Liberty Center is in “much better shape” than some other properties because of its diverse array of offerings, including 75,000 square feet of Class A office space, 240 multifamily units and a 130-room AC Hotel by Marriott, Lassiter said.

The site’s selling points include being a “beautiful property” in “a fabulous location,” one that covers the north side of the market with very easy access to a great mix of retailers and entertainment, she said.

MORE: Liberty Center owner comments on new property manager, the project’s third in 4 years

Bayer, which brought its entire team to the site for several days in November before it took over managing and leasing efforts at the site Dec. 1, already has "a lot of familiarity" with the regional market because of its project in Lexington, the Summit at Fritz Farm, and other projects nearby, Lassiter said.

The company is dedicating numerous management and leasing resources to the project itself, including an on-site management team and a “full-team assault” when it comes to leasing Liberty Center’s available space, she said. That includes assigning to Liberty Center Krista Wood, Bayer’s vice president of leasing, and her four-person leasing team, two of them working from Lexington and two from other offices.

“They all have tremendous experience in the leasing world,” Lassiter said. “I think that’s what’s important for Liberty, is that Bayer is committed to dedicate the right resources, the experienced resources to the property.”

Founded in 1983, Bayer Properties is 60 percent outside third-party managed properties and 40 percent owned properties.

MORE: New Liberty Center property manager taking more hands-on role

It already has marketed Liberty Center last month at International Council of Shopping Centers’ New York Deal Making convention, which brings together retailers and property owners and developers, Lassiter said. It plans to take that marketing to another level at ICSC’s RECon conference in Las Vegas this May. In between, it will market the property via regional events and direct one-on-one meetings at retailers’ offices.

Bayer Properties is in discussions with a tenant to fill a large space at Liberty Center, Lassiter said. She said she could not specify the nature of the tenant or the location of that space.

Two large spaces vacant at the site include the former homes of The Gap, which closed in January 2019, and Forever 21, which closed in December.

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Phil Morrical, chair of the Liberty Community Authority, said he likes what he has seen from Bayer Properties.

“I think they bring an energy to Liberty Center that has not been present for a long time,” Morrical said. “Their background, their properties, they’re all very impressive.”

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