Despite gloomy economic forecasts nationally, the Ashland commercial market is still humming. Owners of buildings going up around town and other businesses moving in have one eye on the economy, but the other looking ahead toward the future.

Steve Meister, who owns the retail space anchored by Market of Choice, began renovating the old bowling alley last fall. Although he has just one tenant claiming one-third of the 12,000-square-foot building so far, he is confident more will come, even if it takes a bit longer than it might have a year ago.

"Something had to be done with that bowling alley regardless, and so it's either tear it down or rebuild it and do something with it," he said. "I'm not really concerned that much. I'm starting to get interest in the building, and I don't think I'll have any trouble filling it up."

His existing building has a vacancy, but he chalks it up to normal turnover, with a new ATT store moving in in June.

Commercial economy

Although the residential markets may be suffering, Ashland's commercial sector so far hasn't seen a big change, said commercial real estate agent Kathie Kennedy.

"I think it's actually indicative of the vibrancy of the downtown Ashland retail to see additional retail space being built," she said. "Building space to accommodate the market &

that's not a bad sign, I don't think."

Sherri Strandlien is the club manager of Anytime Fitness, the business moving into Meister's bowling alley, now known as Walker Plaza. The site was attractive for a 24-hour fitness center because of its central, well-lit location, she said, and she believes fitness is one business that can weather a poor economy.

"Even though I know gas has gone up, groceries have gone up, I think with all of that, people are still finding a way to include fitness into their life," she said. "Fitness is one thing that people will try to find affordable. They'll cut corners in ways other than to not take care of themselves."

Miller Paint Company is also moving into a new commercial space at Barclay Square, just down the street from their current location. Store manager Chris Muck said they had to jump on the opportunity despite the economy.

"You plan for the future, not for the now," he said. "There's not a lot of commercial space in Ashland that fits our need."

The store will gain nearly 2,000 square feet of space and significantly more room for parking.

"Hopefully more space means more money and more paint," he said.

Local development

Barclay Square, owned by Archerd Dresner and located at 2205 Ashland St., was originally designed for Ashland Hardware, with 10 residential units upstairs, but when the first plan fell through, they were able to recruit the paint store fairly quickly, Evan Archerd said.

"The whole project was master planned, and we have always intended to finish it no matter what the economy was doing," he said.

Archerd's company is also working on some residential property, a development in Talent and the downtown project on Lithia Way formerly known as Northlight, now First Place, he said.

That development, designed to include six individual buildings with both residential and commercial space, will be built in phases and won't be finished for another five to 10 years, Archerd said. Because of the high demand for housing and the project's proximity to downtown, he said he didn't foresee any difficulty finding tenants to fill the space.

At least one commercial building completed in the last year filled up slower than expected. Mark DiRienzo, who co-owns an office building on Mistletoe Road, said he and partner Mark Knox left the ground floor of their building unfinished in hopes of attracting one large tenant who could customize the space, but no one came forward. Now, individual office spaces finished last month are actively on the market, he said.

"It does feel like the markets must a little bit soft for office space, but there are still people that are on the prowl for good space," he said. "Just because there is office space available doesn't mean it's good office space, and we like to think that our product is offering something different."

The pair own more vacant land next door and plan to build again as soon as they find a tenant to commit to a reasonable amount of the space, he said. But the economy is still not a source of worry for him.

"I feel it for sure, but it's not making me nervous from a business point of view," he said. "The city is supportive of business and continues to be. If the city's helpful then it will happen here."

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