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A look inside Cooke's Marketplace

By ANDY OURIEL • Mar 15, 2019 at 5:00 PM

SANDUSKY — Nowhere on Earth can someone, without leaving a storied structure, eat barbecue food in one hand and raw cookie dough with the other and then choose between visiting a children’s museum downstairs or launching axes upstairs.

But, less than two months from now, people visiting downtown Sandusky can.

A reclamation project continues at what’s now called The Marketplace at Cooke on East Market Street in Sandusky.

Undertaken by developers Rick and Meghan Hogrefe, who have invested about $20 million across Sandusky and Bay View since 2016, they consider The Marketplace as a marquee property in their ever-evolving lakefront real estate profile.

For several months now, crews have gutted and restored the former Huntley Building, once home to The Hero Zone, into an indoor mall.

The Hogrefes hand-picked local entrepreneurs with varying talents — more specifically, those with experience in the arts, science, retail, food, beverage and more — to deliver an eclectic collection of merchants within The Marketplace.

“From the very beginning, we have been asking people, ‘What types of businesses do you believe would be useful downtown that would help make Sandusky a better place to visit?’” Rick Hogrefe said. “We focused on bringing those types of businesses to The Marketplace that we’re missing right now. We also wanted to offer people different choices.”

The Hogrefes circled April 27 as the date they want The Marketplace to debut.


The concept behind The Marketplace

Hailing from San Diego, Rick and Meghan Hogrefe understand people crave year-round entertainment. After all, no matter in January or July, people visit their hometown for fun.

They asked themselves: “Why not Sandusky?” their home away from home.

Both understand millions of people visit the city each year, but mostly during the spring, summer and fall.

Then The Marketplace, as Rick Hogrefe explained, must expand Sandusky’s “vacation land” into unfamiliar territory.

“This is about winterizing Sandusky,” said the 1979 Margaretta High School graduate. “There are a lot of great things to do here in the summer or fall. But this, The Marketplace, is about giving locals and tourists something to do downtown during the wintertime.”

Hogrefe pointed to Paddle & Climb — also in downtown Sandusky, the business, in addition to renting out kayaks and selling activewear clothing, offers an indoor rock climbing wall — as the first step in his company’s, H2 Property Holdings, multi-phase plan.

“This will help create more foot traffic downtown, helping not only the places within The Marketplace, but others around it make money during the winter, which is usually a slow time for businesses around here,” he said.

The Marketplace is one of two major entities within the Cooke Complex, wrapping around Columbus Avenue and Market Street. The other: the adjacent Cooke Building, a mix of forthcoming entertainment, office space and additional retail components. The building should open in 2020.

Overall the Cooke Complex’s investment totals $10.5 million, an amount primarily fronted by the Hogrefes with some funds coming from Sandusky’s government.

“The project represents improving very iconic and very historic buildings not only in our downtown but regarding the history and architectural integrity in the city,” city chief development director Matt Lasko said. “Not to mention, this project is going to activate 65,000 square feet of underutilized retail and office space, bringing further activity eastward on Market Street, which is our least tenanted corridor downtown.”


Paying homage to Sandusky

While a completely new venture, history plays a driving force within The Marketplace.

The Hogrefes enlisted spouses Benny and Heather Byington, of Sandusky Salvage and Design and Patina Creek, along with area resident Tara Salazar, to create an overall atmosphere saluting notable Sandusky periods from yesteryear. Salazar, the owner of Home for Seven in Clyde, is one of The Marketplace’s interior designers.

“We went with a rustic era, between the 1840s and 1950s,” Benny Byington said. “We have lots of pictures from the Sandusky Library. We have murals of the lake, Sandusky State Theatre and Cedar Point.”

The main concourse features many artifacts, including The Chief. The record-setting boat, made in Sandusky, traveled 110 mph over ice back in 1954. It hangs above a staircase leading toward the Sandusky Children’s Museum.

In front of the state’s mural, the Hogrefes will install movie theater-style seats, offering patrons a resting spot, of sorts, in between shopping, eating or axe-throwing. People, at no cost, can watch black-and-white movies screening on a nearby projector.

“This is going to be so great for the city,” said Byington, who emphasized how the Hogrefes are “wonderful people.”


Just what the city needs

Rick Hogrefe never says no to a tour request of The Marketplace. He’s eager to show off the progress inside a building nearly condemned just before he and Meghan became its property owners in 2017.

“The first word out of everybody who walks through this place is, ‘Wow.’ They then say, ‘How could this have happened downtown?’” he said. “But we always knew this was something special.”

Prior to the Hogrefes arriving on the scene, countless other visionaries came before them, offering empty promises of development dreams never coming to fruition. Those failures made many locals skeptical whether Sandusky could ever experience a renaissance it’s now enjoying today, thanks in large part to Rick and Meghan.

But the Hogrefes aren’t vindictive. They’re not driven by proving people wrong. Rather their motivation, and the reason Rick enjoys taking people through The Marketplace, stems from him and Meghan sharing a similar perspective to other Sandusky supporters: They just want a better city for everyone to enjoy.

“From the very beginning, we had to build it to show people it’s possible. We couldn’t do the traditional developer route of selling tickets for the stadium and then build the stadium. We had to build the stadium first, and then the tickets,” Rick said.

He continued with his baseball analogy: “We are hitting home runs. The lineup for The Marketplace is awesome. This is an absolute home run.”

Others agree with him.

“Meghan and Rick are part of a contagious energy we’re seeing downtown,” said Abbey Bemis, the executive director of the Erie County Economic Development Corp. “Their efforts have been a spark for entrepreneurs in The Marketplace, but also for others who have creative ideas about improvements they want to make in the surrounding neighborhood.”


Merchants inside The Marketplace at Cooke

Here’s a current list of tenants soon opening up shop inside The Marketplace, with descriptions provided by H2 Property Management:

Fancy Me Boutique: accessories, apparel and things of beauty; proprietors Amber and Spencer Patterson

• Bake Erie: specialty cupcakes and sweets; proprietors Liz Wilken

• Doughin' Crazy: raw cookie dough, ice cream and more; proprietors Anna Esposito and Kristin Allison

• Derrick Jr: barbecue and soul food; proprietor: Derrick Moore

• Nobel Axes: axe-throwing bar; proprietors Rick and Meghan Hogrefe, operations manager Ryan Whaley

Sandusky Children’s Museum; executive director Richard Gallagher, board chairman Rick Hogrefe

Note: H2 continues to advertise for additional openings and believes “several more” businesses will open at The Marketplace.

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