Built to last

National retailers didn’t look kindly on Northeast Ohio in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The region’s rust belt reputation made it difficult to attract retailers, despite millions of potential customers with a limited shopping selection.

Mitchell Schneider, president of First Interstate Properties Ltd., helped change the face of Northeast Ohio retail. He was the first developer to bring chains like Wal-Mart, Kohl’s, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Costco, Crate ‘n Barrel, The Cheesecake Factory and Expo Design Center to the region region and is currently developing Legacy Village on former TRW land in Lyndhurst.

“Starting a retail development company from scratch was a significant challenge in an industry that was filled with established real estate developers,” Schneider says. “We were able to get our company started through referrals and references from other developers, a quality group of investors backing the venture and a lot of tenacity.”

Since forming the company in 1989, First Interstate has developed eight properties making up 3.6 million square feet, and is on pace to grow its portfolio to 6 million square feet in three to five years, according to the developer.

Land for commercial development is limited in Northeast Ohio, and communities often want to hold on to what undeveloped land is left, which creates controversy for new projects. Schneider, a former real estate attorney, knows how protective communities can be and says he actively addresses their concerns and the community impact of the development before they become a point of contention.

First Interstate’s-$65 million, 800,000-square-foot Avon Commons project, which opened last year with anchor tenants including Kohl’s, Target and Old Navy, almost didn’t happen. The project was met with lawsuits and a contested commercial rezoning vote, which led to the Ohio Supreme Court certifying the votes.

Throughout the ordeal, Schneider says he collaborated with community leaders for solutions, including adding more green space than what was mandated and paying $1.8 million for public roads leading to the shopping center.

“We’ve been proactive rather than having the community having to identify the problems and having to extract from us the solutions,” Schneider says. “That’s not typical in the development industry.” How to reach: First Interstate Properties Ltd., (216) 765-1065 or www.first-interstate.com