EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is Part I of a two-part series in response to a reader-submitted question through Open Source, a platform where readers can submit questions to the staff. Reader Jesse Robinson asked, "Are there any plans for a commercial comeback of the West Park Shopping Center on Park Ave?"
MANSFIELD -- Amy Forrest has called the West Park Shopping Center her workplace since she was 19.
After spending 24 years as a hair stylist, she became the owner of a hair salon, Reflections, just about 12 years ago.
Now at age 55, she describes the 1157 Park Ave. West address as "severely depressing."
She isn't alone.
"Two years ago we were 60-percent full," she said. "Now, I'm afraid to count.
"We've had wonderful businesses here. We had T.J. Maxx, the Bookery, we've had grocery stores here. We had Dunham's Sports. We had really nice places."
Property owners Namdar and Mason boast a Dollar General Market and Citi Trends as property attractions, along with others that are no longer in business, on their website.
Now, the majority of storefronts are painted black, blocking views of the stores' interiors. One window has been boarded up for two months. Another window has a weeks-old hole with caution tape stretched across it. Another hole remains untouched.
Only a handful of businesses remain alongside Reflections: Picture Day Photography, Dollar General Market, Citi Trends, Rose Beauty and J's Fashion, Willard Coin Exchange, and New Hot Wok.
The degraded shopping center has seen a steep decline in tenants over the past five years, Forrest said. It's a far cry from its glory years of being a part of the Miracle Mile.
Skilken Properties of Columbus sold the West Park Shopping Center property to Namdar and Mason, a Great Neck, New York real estate investment firm for for $1.6 million in March of 2015, according to published reports.
Since the purchase, tenants such as Forrest have felt their needs neglected, and when they are addressed tenants claim it appears to be with minimal effort.
Roofs are leaky, windows have cracked -- some have holes, vacant storefronts are painted black to hide damage inside. Rumors of moldy closets fill Facebook comments.
"It's all true," Forrest said. "There's nothing I can do about what's being said about our shopping center because it's all true and our hands are tied."
Forrest has had some success in getting her store fixed.
"I complain left and right," she said. "Even when we have tiny little bit of a leak, I'm on it."
The worn-down look has an effect on new customers and employees, Forrest added.
"Sometimes people will look at the outside on their way in and think, 'Oh, do I really want to go there?'" she said. "They don't know that it's really nice inside.
"It makes a bad first impression."
The property owners don't want to invest money in the shopping park, which can lead to tenants dealing with the same issues time after time, she said.
"The shopping center has sent crews to fix things for me as far as my roof -- when we really complain about things," Forrest said. " The people they have hired to do things are very professional and good, but they don't get to do what they're recommending.
"The company doesn't want to pay them that much. They didn't want to pay for the repairs. They don't want to pay what they need to pay to make it what it should be."
Josh Namdar, a broker for the real estate investment company said the company plans to invest money after there are tenants interested in leasing the storefronts.
Tim Bowersock, the City of Mansfield's economical development director, said as long as the property meets the city's health codes, there is not much the city can do.
Mansfield Mayor Tim Theaker called the property "an embarrassment."
But it's not just repairs that aren't fully corrected that Forrest finds frustrating. Forrest said there is a general lack of investment in the property.
"Each year, Dan Lew (who owned China Club located next door to Reflections but has moved to Downtown Mansfield) and I paid $1,000 a year to landscape out front," she said. "The property owners wouldn't reimburse us for it and our clients expect some class."
"Landlord is an absentee landlord with a reputation as a 'slumlord,'" reads a lawsuit, filed in Circuit Court for Duval County, Florida, by the operator of a home-furnishings outlet. That notice was printed in the Philadelphia Inquirer. "Landlord's continuous breaches and material failures have rendered the premises unrentable."
Later the suit reads, "Landlord is likely to continue to fail to perform and likely refuse to timely correct its failure to perform.
"On several occasions, landlord has offered to cure its failures, and yet landlord has repeatedly failed to actually curt its failures..."
The suit accuses Namdar and Mason's alleged irresponsibility as having resulted in leaky roofs, broken electrical systems, and a roach infestation that have kept tenants away.
"I think they bought it just for the write-off," said Tara Beaire, who relocated her business, Tara's Floral, to Fourth Street in downtown Mansfield from West Park Shopping Center. "They didn't care."
Beaire said the final straw for her was when Namdar and Mason hiked her rent $500 more per month.
"They wouldn't make any repairs. Why would I give them more of my money?"
On her way out, she wanted to take her store's signage on Park Ave West with her, but she said was told if she took them, she would not get her deposit back.
With seemingly little improvements on the way for the property, Forrest has decided to move her business, too. She'll relocate Reflections to 2151 Stumbo Road in Ontario.
"I've only owned it for 12 years, you know. I just, I'm sad because of where (the property has) gone, but this is a great opportunity for us. We're still alive and well."
Reflections will remain in West Park Shopping Center for two more months and "then we're getting the heck out of dodge," Forrest said. "Our clients, my amazing staff and us, like, we are all excited. We've been in business (here) for so long.
"People remember it as when they were little, they were brought in and now they're teenagers and 20-year-olds coming in, and they remember Reflections and they remember our shopping center. But now you look around and you're thinking, this doesn't look right. So it's been very disheartening because we're being forced to move."
She said she's heard rumors floating around about restoring the Miracle Mile, but she isn't able to wait.
"Everybody complains about a landlord, but Skilken Properties took good care of us and we still had viable businesses here that matched our business. Businesses that seem to compliment each other," Forrest said.
"When you see the state of our shopping center, you know that I can't (wait any longer). We have to get out of here quickly because my staff is worth more than this and my clients and guests are worth so much more than this. That's why we're moving."