2017-11-09 / Front Page

Lieghios Buy Mall In Mackinaw City

By Erich T. Doerr


The Mackinaw Crossings mall has been purchased by Mackinac Bay Properties, a company run by Joe and Enzo Lieghio. Here Joe Lieghio is pictured inside the mall’s courtyard with three generations of his family Monday afternoon, November 6, including (from left) his son Tony, his father Tony, his son Joe, Jr., and his wife Paola. The Crossings’ stage and the Depot restaurant are visible behind them. The Mackinaw Crossings mall has been purchased by Mackinac Bay Properties, a company run by Joe and Enzo Lieghio. Here Joe Lieghio is pictured inside the mall’s courtyard with three generations of his family Monday afternoon, November 6, including (from left) his son Tony, his father Tony, his son Joe, Jr., and his wife Paola. The Crossings’ stage and the Depot restaurant are visible behind them. Mackinaw Crossings mall in Mackinaw City has been purchased from Jim Wehr by Mackinac Bay Properties, Inc., owned by Joe and Enzo Lieghio. Joe Lieghio told The St. Ignace News they want to make the mall more of a destination location in the future and offer more entertainment options.

“We want [the Crossings] to not only be a place to shop, but one where people can spend their time,” he said. “We want it to be a reason to go to the Straits area and not just an aside business…We think we can do that.”

Mr. Wehr, a Missouri resident, was one of the original owners of the mall following its mid-1990s construction and bought out the others involved in its construction about a decade ago. Following the sale last week, Joe Lieghio said he hopes local ownership for the mall will help it better serve its customers and tenants. He wants to “put back” some of the polish that drew people to the mall in past years, but has weakened of late, he said, with a goal of making the mall better than before.

“We’re looking to add a few new entrances to the Crossings, including a new one on Central Avenue and making the one on Huron Avenue much more attractive,” Mr. Lieghio said, citing the existing signage as being hard to see and hoping to make the Central Avenue entrance a drive-in entrance if the concept receives village approval.

The sale of the mall includes almost all of its assets, including the Depot restaurant in the historic late-1800s depot that once served as Mackinaw City’s train station. The Lieghios will continue to operate it.

The sale specifically does not include Teysen’s Gift Shop, the Harbor Wear store, or the Courtyard Cinema movie theater, as they are all independently owned.

The Lieghios plan to keep as much of the existing Crossings staff as possible, including property manager Sarah Grant, its maintenance staff, and employees at the Depot. They will not be operating any businesses inside the mall other than the Depot. The family already owns several businesses that neighbor the mall, including the Mackinac Bay Trading Company, Animal Tracks Adventure Golf, and a Starbucks Coffee location.

Mr. Lieghio said they have already started booking acts to perform on the mall’s stage and added the initial response from its tenants has been good. Several businesses are extending their leases since they heard of the sale, while others are signing up for new ones. The start of any new developments at the Crossings will wait until the Lieghios complete their elevated waterfront restaurant project nearby on South Huron Avenue.

The Lieghios have toyed with the idea of buying the Crossings for years and got serious about doing so when the shrinking Arnold Transit Company offered them a chance to buy its Central Avenue property last year, with the brothers thinking it could be well used as a new Crossings entrance. After several recent developments involving new construction, they have decided to try this as a change of pace involving the purchase of existing buildings.

The Lieghios were born and grew up in Mackinaw City and want to reinvest the profits from their businesses back into the community. Joe Lieghio believes that things are either growing or moving backwards, pushing him to always try to grow his community businesses.

He likes buildings with an older appearance, preferring more timeless designs inspired by the past, compared to buildings designed with modern looks that may not age well. He believes those visiting the historic area expect to see classiclooking structures and the Straits area thrives on its relaxed attitude with a historical look and appeal.

While the Crossings mall was built in the mid-1990s and opened in May 1997, he finds it fits into this mold well. He and his brother intend to maintain the current style, both in the existing mall and its possible expansions toward Central Avenue. When the mall was built, it was deliberately styled to mimic some of the style from the “Main Street USA” area found at some Disney theme parks. The mall was originally named the Courtyards of Mackinaw. The plan for new gateway entrances is intended to make the areas more dramatic, but their planned style will still fit with the rest of the mall.

The mall has 54 rental properties. Joe Lieghio said there are no set plans for how much this number could increase if the new construction comes to pass. The proposed expansion will involve looking into who wants to rent properties in a new area before taking any action. He hopes work at the mall could help extend the downtown area on East Central Avenue further west, to give visitors more to do and get them to extend their Mackinaw City vacations.

He said he hopes improvements at the mall could help increase Mackinaw City’s status as an attraction, even for those not vacationing in the area, getting them to take a look on one trip and come back for a longer stay. He hopes to promote the village as an alternative or an accompaniment to a Mackinac Island vacation. He cited his family’s prior success with the Wienerlicious restaurant in this role, pulling people off I-75 for a quick stop. While the giant 60-foot hot dog decoration atop its roof drew a mixed local reaction upon its 2014 installation, it has proved popular with visitors who come constantly in the summer to take their photographs with it.

Joe Lieghio said he also wants to see if the village may be willing to leave street lights in the village brighter until 11 p.m. next summer, because he said businesses have seen drop-offs in nighttime foot traffic in recent years since lights were turned down. He added that he is aware of the concern the street lights could have if brightened on the nearby Headlands International Dark Sky Park, which he noted is a good asset for the community and the reason he’s not pushing to increase lighting all night, but said the village should also work not to hurt its business areas. The Crossings has a nightly laser show, which the Lieghios plan to improve, but it has seen low attendance of late since the lighting change.

One change at the mall next year could be the discontinuation of the Cultural Center operated at the mall by the Mackinaw Area Historical Society and the Mackinaw City Area Arts Council, owing to increasing demand for rental properties. The center has been at the mall for the past three summers using properties that were unrented and otherwise would have been left vacant. Joe Lieghio said he still wants to partner with the local organizations in other ways, perhaps working with them on programming to take place on the stage in the mall.

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