Developer Wayne Zukin says a high-tech incubation company could be one of the tenants in the Garden Theater Block.

Although Zukin Development Corporation and Collaborative Ventures, the developers for the Garden Theater Block, are “months away” from signed leases, they have secured at least one letter of intent from a prospective tenant and are negotiating with others, said Zukin Development President Wayne Zukin.

The prospective tenant, a high-tech incubation company that Zukin did not wish to name, has signed a letter of intent to lease space in the development. A letter of intent is not the same as a lease and does not obligate the company to rent, but is the first step, Zukin said.
Zukin expects to have a signed disposition agreement with the Urban Redevelopment Authority, which owns the entire block, sometime in May that will grant Zukin Development the right to develop the land and give Zukin the go-ahead to begin construction.

The URA entered into an exclusive 90-day negotiation period with Zukin Development and Collaborative Ventures for the project in October, and granted the developers a 90-day extension in January and a 30-day extension this month.

Collaborative Ventures principal Craig Totino said the project’s main focus now is finding tenants. They have sent letters of intent out to several prospective clients and are waiting to hear back.

Small, local businesses have had trouble securing financing in the current economic climate, Totino said, but the developers still have had some success.

“We’re getting closer to a couple of restaurants. I can’t say who yet,” Zukin said.

One tenant that Zukin has been going after publicly is the East End Food Co-op, a member-owned grocery store that focuses on local and organic food.

A market study co-sponsored by Zukin Development and the Food Co-op showed that a Northside location in the former Garden Theater would generate about one-third the sales the original location does, which isn’t quite enough, said Co-op Executive Director Rob Baran.

Despite that, Baran said the Co-op is still considering the Garden as a location, pending updated neighborhood information from the 2010 U.S. Census.

Zukin said that he is in talks with other grocery stores, but expects the updated census data to make the location more attractive to the Food Co-op.

Other prospective tenants include an ice cream parlor, a pet food store and a yoga studio, Zukin said.

In the next month or two, Zukin said he will submit an application to expand the Mexican War Streets Historic District to include the Garden Block. Historic designation for the block will allow Zukin to use historic tax credits for renovation work.

Zukin plans to begin the process to gain approval to tear down the back of the Garden Theater in order to turn into a grocery store within the next month, he said. Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires approval for work on historic buildings that alters the structure when government money is used.

Construction work on the block could begin as early as late summer, Zukin said, but it depends on how long the historic review process takes. Stabilization work on 1115 and 1117 Federal Street must be done this summer because of damages sustained during the winter.

As the project moves forward, Totino hopes to keep the community involved. He spoke at the April Central Northside Neighborhood Council meeting and welcomes future presentations to keep everyone up to date, he said.

“There’s a lot of people in the community who care about things, and who can help us get things done,” Totino said.