O'Reilly Auto Parts has signed a 15-year lease for the former Blockbuster building at 6102 W. North Ave., city officials and neighborhood representatives learned Friday.
A group including several Common Council members, the city administrator, the economic development director and members of the East Tosa Alliance met with the property's owner and representatives Friday morning to discuss the future of the site, according to two aldermen who were present.
But after a conversation about fitting any potential use into the city's comprehensive plan, they said, owner Dan Cohen of Mid-America Real Estate announced that the lease with O'Reilly had already been signed.
Ald. Linda Nikcevich said in an e-mail that Cohen told the group he had been working on alternate plans for the Blockbuster site since 2007 and that O'Reilly was the only business that had wanted it.
When Blockbuster vacated the premises in December without notice, Nikcevich said, Cohen and O'Reilly were already prepared to move ahead with a lease.
Nikcevich and Ald. Bobby Pantuso, who also attended the meeting, were concerned, though, that the fast turnaround of the property did not take into account the city's vision for the area.
Between 2007 and the present, she said, the city had adopted the North Avenue Plan to implement a $5.4 million, 15-year vision for an enlivened business district. However, she said, Cohen told the group he was not even aware of the existence of the redevelopment plan.
"This is a conditional use that could be approved for the space with restrictions, but not a preferred use of the property," Nikcevich wrote.
Pantuso concurred, saying in an interview that while any solid, long-term tenant was better than a long-term vacancy, an auto parts business was not what East Tosa had hoped for on the Blockbuster site.
Neighborhood organizers who did the groundwork in developing the North Avenue Plan have long looked at the Blockbuster location as a potential anchor for the east end of the district in Wauwatosa.
It had always been hoped, he said, that attracting a destination dining establishment or up-scale mixed-use development there could be the impetus for a revival of sorts along the avenue.
"I think we could have done better than an auto parts store," Pantuso said.
Cohen could not be reached for comment.