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I2P eyes purchase of Alpena Mall

News File Photo A shopper browses clearance items at J.C. Penney in the Alpena Mall in this September 2020 News file photo.

ALPENA TOWNSHIP — The Alpena Mall’s days may be numbered, if Alpena Township approves a special land use permit for a local manufacturing business looking to expand.

I2P, a hub for several small manufacturers in the former Kmart building on U.S.-23 South, announced today it has a purchase agreement with the owner of the mall, where I2P hopes to store products and create office space for a pair of companies under the I2P umbrella.

I2P corporate representative Jackie Krawczak said the sale is dependent on the township approving the permit.

Leases for the current mall tenants will be honored until they expire or are terminated by the tenant, she said. Gordon Foods owns its own space, so I2P would have no say in what that store does, even if the sale goes through. The other anchor stores, Dunham’s Sports and the Shoe Dept., are mall tenants.

Krawczak said rapid growth for several of I2P’s tenants has forced it to seek more space.

“I think the pace of growth was a pleasant surprise,” Krawczak said. “It is the goal of any business to grow, and we are growing sooner — a little sooner — than maybe what we anticipated. That is a good thing, because it will create more jobs, development, and more money in people’s pockets to spend at other businesses in the area.”

While I2P grows, the mall’s closure could worsen the recent decline of retail options in Alpena, especially along the US-23 corridor.

The mall suffered a large blow earlier this year when Alpena Mall anchor store J.C. Penney announced its closure as its corporate office filed for bankruptcy. Peebles closed last year, and Neiman’s Family Market announced this month it is closing its Alpena location.

Burger King closed earlier this summer.

There are pros and cons to I2P’s potential move to the mall, Mike Mahler, planning and development director at the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce, said.

He said it is important local manufacturing thrives, but losing retail options could force shoppers to travel out of town.

Mahler said I2P’s expansion is probably a good thing, because the mall has struggled for years to attract and keep tenants.

“Manufacturing jobs pay better than retail jobs, which, overall, is good for the community,” he said. “We hate to see retail leave, but it is happening everywhere, and Alpena isn’t immune to that trend. Maybe some of the businesses in the mall can fill some of the vacant places we have now downtown or in the shopping centers.”

Krawczak said she has heard a few concerns about I2P taking over the mall, but most people have supported the idea.

“I’m sure there will be a mixed response, but a majority of what I have heard has been positive,” she said.

Almost since its inception, I2P has hired at a rapid pace and is still recruiting potential employees. If it expands its operations at the mall, it will need to add even more workers.

“We are still facing a shortage of talent, and we will still face that moving into the future,” she said. “We will continue to address that problem and keep moving forward.”

The township has already reworked zoning along the corridor to allow I2P to take over the old Kmart building. The new request will need to go before the township Planning Commission, which will make a recommendation to the township Board of Trustees.

Before any decision is made, the public will have an opportunity to comment on the proposed project, township Supervisor Nathan Skibbe said. He said residents who live near the mall will also have to be contacted about the proposed special use permit.

The Planning Commission is slated to meet next on Oct. 12.

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