Over the course of more than 100 years, the area known as Melody Mountain has undergone a “dynamic transformation” from clay mine to bustling retail center.
So said Ashland Mayor Chuck Charles, one of numerous dignitaries who gathered Thursday for a ribbon-cutting for the second phase of the retail development on Riverhill Drive, which houses Dick’s Sporting Goods and PetSmart. Both stores have been open for several weeks.
According to Charles, clay-mining operations on the mountain began in the early 1900s. The clay was hauled from there to a brickyard roughly where the Winchester Avenue Speedway now stands, he said.
But, after the brickyard closed in the 1950s, the property “reverted to its natural condition” and became known primarily as a “lover’s lane” for local teenagers, he said.
In the 1980s, an effort was made to develop an outdoor music amphitheater on the property — hence the name Melody Mountain — but financial problems sank the venture, Charles said.
The property remained ideal until 2002, when Walmart, then in the Ashland Town Center, decided it wanted its own free-standing store, and Ohio property developer Bo Gunlock of RG Properties approached Ashland city officials about building it on Melody Mountain.
“When Bo introduced his plan, he did so in a way that made it easy for the city commission to get on board,” Ashland Economic Development Director Chris Pullem said.
Making the property suitable for development required the removal of 1.1 million cubic feet of rock, Gunlock said at Thursday’s ceremony. The height of the mountain was reduced by 70 feet — the equivalent of a seven-story building, he said.
RG Properties had intended to begin work on the second phase of the development in 2007, soon after the opening of the new Walmart. However, the recession prompted the developer to shelve, but not abandon those plans. In October 2012, Gunlock told the Ashland Board of City Commissioners the project was being revived.
“We’ve glad to be opening, even it is a little later than we’d hoped,” Gunlock said. “We had hoped to open the project all at the same time.”
The Dick’s location is about 50,000 square feet, while PetSmart is about 12,500 square feet. There are also two smaller spaces in the development. One will be occupied by Great Clips, which has already posted signage, and the other has been leased to OneMain Financial, said Mary Beth Reser, marketing director for RG Properties.
Work will begin soon on the new Kohl’s department store on the eastern-most edge of the development, Gunlock said. The Wisconsin-based retailer is eyeing a fall 2014 opening, he said.
KENNETH HART can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2654.