By Hiroko Sato
GROTON — On the brochure, Shaw’s Plaza, at the junction of routes 119 and 225, sounds like an ideal place for businesses to locate.
About 16,400 cars pass the busy “Four Corners” intersection each day. More than 12,000 residents, with household incomes averaging $137,533, live within three miles of the junction, according to the brochure.
But after failing to fill up the storefronts for the past six years, SuperValu Inc., the grocery retailer that owns Shaw’s, is ready to give potential tenants an even bigger reason to move in — one year of free rent.
“It’s a creative way to draw attention to the plaza,” said Michael Rasmussen, chairman of the Groton Board of Trade who also serves on the Groton Economic Development Committee.
“I would love to see the place occupied,” said Selectman Anna Eliot, who heads the Economic Development Committee.
SuperValu, which built Shaw’s Plaza in 2005, is offering one year of free rent to qualified tenants who sign a five-year lease.
The deal would be even sweeter for a tenant who makes a longer-term commitment; those who sign a 10-year lease would receive a one-year free plus half off the base rent in the second year, said Judy Niles-Simmons of Norwood Group, a Bedford, N.H.-based commercial real-estate brokerage that represents SuperValu for the leasing of Shaw’s Plaza.
“Our goal is to provide a thriving shopping center for local consumers,” SuperValu spokesman Michael Siemienas said in an e-mail.
There are two spaces for rent at the plaza. One of them, attached to the building that houses Shaw’s and Osco Drug, has 10,000 square feet of space. The other space is across the parking lot from the grocery store and has 5,000 square feet available. It is next to RiverBend & Company, a high-end appliance store that has been the single occupant in the building.
There are also three retail “pads” that are yet to be constructed at the plaza, totaling 22,140 square feet.
The bargain offer comes amid an economic downturn that has prompted commercial landlords across the region to devise new ways to attract tenants.
According to Cliff Critch of ERA Morrison Commercial Real Estate, which has offices in Ayer, Lowell, Billerica and Acton, anywhere between 20 percent to 25 percent of commercial real estate is vacant in Greater Lowell.
“The commercial real-estate market is lagging a little bit behind the residential market as far as the down economy” because leases typically last three to five years, Critch said.
Many leases that will expire this year were signed well before the stock-market plunge in 2008. In hopes of keeping rental spaces occupied, many landlords have lowered their rents, Critch said. He says the SuperValu deal is essentially a discount on rent, just packaged differently.
Critch said lowering rent would likely work more in favor of landlords than free rent as tenants may become too accustomed to not making the monthly payment.
“It gives tenants a false sense of security,” Critch said.
Annual lease rates for space at the Shaw’s Plaza range between $12 to $18 per square foot, said Niles-Simmons.
Eliot believes there may be a need for specialty businesses like a tack shop. Rasmussen hopes to see a cinema-restaurant where people can dine and watch a movie, as well as grocery stores that target niche markets, such as Trader Joe’s. Eliot said a restaurant would require a septic upgrade at the plaza.
Eliot believes that SuperValu is reluctant to modify the entire existing space, meaning it’s more suitable to large chains with financial resources to commit to thousands of square feet, Eliot said. Niles-Simmons said, however, SuperValu will consider subdividing the available space.
The Shaw’s Plaza was developed on a former gravel pit, according to Eliot. Many residents have speculated the low topography may have been a factor in the plaza’s difficulty in attracting traffic. But Donna Spanos, owner of RiverBend, said the plaza’s proximity to Interstate 495 and the abundance of parking spaces have worked well for her business. Being visible to shoppers of Shaw’s has also helped publicize her business, she said. Spanos intends to negotiate the one-year free-lease deal for her lease renewal.
Rasmussen said the Economic Development Committee is working to publicize all available commercial spaces in Groton, including those at the smaller plaza across Boston Road from Shaw’s. A 4.3-acre lot on Sandy Pond Road, across from Shaw’s, which has been approved for a shopping plaza, remains vacant.