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Former Woolworth mini-mall filling up with new tenants


For years, the former mini-mall underneath Stream International sat vacant, almost forgotten.

But in recent months, new owner Brian H. Murray has found tenants for much of the retail and office space in the downtown building that housed the F.W. Woolworth store until it closed in 1997.

Mr. Murray owns the bottom half of the building, 146 Arsenal St., after purchasing the 41,000 square feet of space for $2.1 million in September from GEJ Watertown LLC, a Tarrytown company that had owned the 3.69-acre site since 1994.

The strip plaza — visible from both Court and Arsenal streets — contains a Family Dollar store, Carthage Savings & Loan, Papa John’s Pizza shop, BeyondNerd electronics store and New York Fashions clothing boutique.

And now seven businesses will make their home in the building in the next several weeks, with most of them involved in the entertainment field, Mr. Murray said. Known as City Center Plaza, the building is undergoing major renovations.

Jiu Jitsu Nation, a mixed martial arts school now on Arsenal Street, will occupy the largest amount of space. Rhonda’s FooteWorks, a dance studio in the Lincoln Building on Public Square, also will become a tenant. The BeyondNerd electronics store will move from its current storefront location in the strip plaza into space in the former mini-mall in early August. And three people are opening a fitness business there, as well.

“They’re all fun things for people to do,” Mr. Murray said. “That’s the commonality. It brings exciting activities to downtown and adds things to do for people who say there’s nothing to do downtown. I’m really optimistic how it’s going to go.”

The renovations are expected to be completed in time for all of them to be in their new homes by Oct. 1, Mr. Murray said.

With the space sitting idle for so long, it could have created hurdles to find tenants. Not many people even knew it existed, he said. After he got the first tenant to commit, others quickly followed.

But the old real estate saying about “location, location, location” probably helped, Mr. Murray said. It’s in the same building where about 900 Stream employees work; it’s across the street from the Jefferson County Court complex, and some of downtown’s most important offices are nearby, he said.

“Things went quicker than I thought,” he said.

The project includes replacing flooring and ceilings, adding more windows for the retail space, installing new indoor and outdoor lighting and improving the Arsenal Street side entrance. The strip plaza’s facade also is getting a face-lift. Mr. Murray was unable to provide a dollar figure for the project.

On Thursday, it was a beehive of activity, with a construction crew focusing on the space where BeyondNerd will move. The business sells comic books and board and video games, offers Web design and IT repairs and hosts gaming tournaments. With the move, its “pay and play” gaming lounge — featuring TV monitors and comfortable chains and couches — will be improved, CEO Christopher L. Dillon said.

The 6,400-square-foot space of the store will be reduced by about 1,000 square feet. But it will be more efficient, Mr. Dillon said, because he was able to design its layout.

On the surface, BeyondNerd may not have much in common with the mixed martial arts school and the fitness business. But the three will attract basically the same demographics of teens, young adults and Fort Drum soldiers, Mr. Dillon said, adding that he envisions the three businesses sharing advertising and marketing with one another.

City Center Plaza also will feature about 3,000 square feet of office space that will house an educational training center, a small Internet-based business and Vector, a national company that markets cutlery that moved there in April and employs about 35 full- and part-time sales representatives.

Eric C. Hicks, Vector’s district manager, said he chose the classroom and two small offices because they fit his needs and were available for the right rental price.

The top floor and the parking lots are owned by the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency. The agency leases the upstairs space to Stream. When Stream moved there in 2002, the building and property were subdivided.

Mr. Murray gave an update of his project Thursday to city officials and members of Advantage Watertown, a group of business and civic leaders. Board member Carolyn D. Fitzpatrick, chairwoman of the Jefferson County Board of Legislators, congratulated him on his success in finding downtown tenants.

“Obviously, they’re seeing the opportunity you’re seeing,” she said.

Asked whether he is worried about the amount of parking at the site, he said the Court Street lot has a great deal of room.

“If we end up with a parking problem, I’ll take it as a good sign,” Mr. Murray said.

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