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Kroger tries to strike deals

Melissa Topey • Mar 23, 2014 at 6:20 PM

A Sandusky County Fair board meeting earlier this week grew emotional when talks turned to the possibility of Kroger building a large store at North Street and Ohio 53.

Kroger is looking to purchase 12 acres of the main parking lot across the street from the fairgrounds, and the company’s representatives have been in talks with the fair board since last year. The first round of discussions seemed to have ended with a deal falling through, but Kroger recently came back with another offer.

Opponents of the deal feel this is the first step for a big chain store moving in and encroaching on the fairgrounds itself. About 30 people showed up to a meeting Monday to hear about the offer.

As part of the new deal, Kroger must find a 12-acre replacement lot for the main parking lot that Sandusky County fairgrounds would sell to the company. This became another point of frustration to residents, who grilled the fair board about the possibility that some people would have to move from homes where they’ve raised families.

“We have nothing to do with that,” said Harold Overmyer, president of the Sandusky County Fair Board.

That would be Kroger working through Wendt Key Team Realty, he said.

Kroger has already made offers to homeowners on Ball Avenue and Laurel Street, near the water tower, for the purchase of their homes, those at Monday’s meeting said.

This includes Michael Mitten, who has lived in his small home at 1500 Laurel St. for 30 years.

About six weeks ago, Wendt Key Team Realty left him an envelope with an offer dated Feb. 13 for his home and land.

The offer: $25,000.

“It was lowball, but they have to start somewhere” Mitten said.

The contract stipulated the purchaser is trying to buy several properties and has the right to cancel the contract at any time. Mitten said he has made investments in his home over the years, including a new roof, siding, windows and furnace.

Just a few weeks ago, Mitten got a phone call from real estate agents. They increased the offer to $32,000, he said.

Mitten’s property is a double lot. Since Kroger only needs the land — not the homes — Mitten feels his land is worth at least a double-share.

“We are currently exploring various options regarding the relocation of parking for the fairgrounds,” Kroger spokeswoman Jackie Siekmann said. “We are open to any suggestions the public might have regarding parking. As far as the specifics of any offer to purchase residential real estate, those offers were not made by Kroger, so I can’t offer any specifics.

“I’ve been working with our real estate team, and we would welcome the opportunity to publicly discuss this opportunity and clear up the many rumors that have been circulating concerning this project,” Siekmann said. “We are not under contract to purchase any land and are merely in the first stages of a multistep process that we undertake when we explore any type of land transaction”

The deal is also contingent on the sale of a nearby beet lot once used by Pioneer Sugar. Overmyer feels it’s a strong possibility this sale would happen.

The visitors bureau would also be moved as part of the deal. The fair board is still waiting to see plans and a definitive offer.

The initial November appraisal on the main parking lot came in at about $2 million, but the new deal with the homes and the beet parcel could be millions more, according to Overmyer.

Robert Zilles, a member of the fair’s board of directors, is against the deal as it stands.

Kroger is set on having this piece of land, which makes it the most valuable land in Fremont, he said.

And while Zilles is not inclined to sell the land, he’s also not inclined to say never. Kroger could, for instance, offer the board $20 million.

Overmyer has said the fair needs an infusion of money to secure its future and continue operations.

Mitten hopes the sale goes through.

“I hope they do. I’m ready to sell” he said. “It’s getting too much to keep. I have property taxes and upkeep”

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