By the looks of it, Fonner View Center, at the intersection of Fonner Park Road and South Locust Street, is run down and abandoned. Only one store remains — Ace Rent To Own — as the other businesses have either moved or closed.
Local developer Ray O’Connor wants to change that by giving the center a new look and a new name, Southeast Commons, which will have 12 spaces available to either lease or own.
The current center was rebuilt in 1980 after a tornado destroyed it during Grand Island’s infamous “Night of the Tornadoes.” O’Connor helped with the rebuild. Forty years later, he is rebuilding it again.
An offer he couldn’t refuse
In 1980, the property was the location of Willman’s grocery store. O’Connor said the center was rebuilt in 1981 and has had numerous owners since then. The latest was Town and Country LLC.
Earlier this year, O’Connor received a call from the company’s owners, who live in California, inquiring whether he were interested in purchasing the property.
“I had an interest in buying it because of the condition of it,” O’Connor said.
Because of the improvements made to the South Locust Street business area during the past 10 years, along with Fonner View’s close proximity to Fonner Park and the Nebraska State Fair, O’Connor said the center needed an urgent face lift. Its deterioration was taking away its potential.
“The location is great,” he said. “You just can’t let an asset sit there like that, where it is positioned, and have all these people go to Fonner Park, go to the State Fair, come to our community and drive up and down South Locust Street and see that. ... The condition of that property reflects very poorly on our community. That was my motivation to get it cleaned up and get it to the point where people will be proud of that area again.”
The manager of Ace Rent to Own, which is staying, said the location is excellent and the store is the furniture chain’s top retailer.
“It is on one of the best corners in town,” O’Connor said. “It is a 40-year-old property. You always have to keep looking at upgrading, repositioning it, and looking for tenants who want to be there.”
Not his first rehab project
O’Connor, who is 73, was hesitant about taking on Fonner View. But he has a track record of remaking and repurposing older properties, such as the Kmart building on Diers Avenue, the old Shopko building and Grand Island Mall.
He had people in the community asking whether he would be interested in renovating the property. When O’Connor didn’t reach out to the past owners, they reached out to him.
“Somehow they found me; someone in the community must have recommended me to them,” O’Connor said.
The whole deal went down in the past 60 days, he said.
O’Connor said work on the center should begin in the next two weeks. The immediate focus will be on the exterior of the structure. The interior will be demolished and built back on a white box form, which will allow tenants to remodel the spaces to fit their needs. Each unit will have its own facade.
O’Connor said he is looking for tenants who will add variety of goods and services to the local economy.
Even though it has only been two months since he entered into negotiations and closed on the property, O’Connor said he has already had a number of inquiries.
“There is very much an interest,” he said.
Low-interest rates for commercial loans are big incentives for people interested in relocating or starting their own businesses in a brick-and-mortar location, O’Connor said.
He said he plans to have the spaces ready for tenants in the next six months.
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