A high-profile block near downtown Akron is still getting a big makeover, but the project has changed.

A “national retailer” is now planning to build at South Main and Thornton streets, south of Interstate 77-76, said the property’s owner, local McDonald’s franchisee John Blickle.

Blickle, of Rubber City McDonald’s, still plans to build a McDonald’s on the block — a plan he revealed last year. But he has scrapped plans to construct an office building that would have included his own corporate offices.

Rubber City McDonald’s now plans to sell about half of the 3-acre parcel it purchased last year to the national retailer, which Blickle declined to identify.

Blickle said this week that the national retailer’s project would be “significantly consistent with our property.” The planned retail facility is not a restaurant, gas station or grocery, he said.

“We’re excited about it,” Blickle said. “It means the whole site is going to get developed at the same time.”

The new McDonald’s, to be built next year, will replace a nearby drive-through McDonald’s operating at the Wolf Ledges-Interstate 76-77 interchange. The new 5,000-square-foot restaurant will include a dining room and will cost more than $1.5 million to build.

The block previously housed Church of the Good Shepherd, which was built in 1923 and demolished in May. Blickle initially planned to save the church building, converting it into an office building. Engineering studies, however, revealed significant damage, including rot in the roof trusses.

Blickle and city officials said last year that development of the block hopefully will spark other investments in the area that is dotted with vacant properties and what Blickle and city planners call “underutilized” buildings.

The city sees the area south of the interstate as a southern gateway to the downtown business district, as well as a northern entry to what has been dubbed the “Bridgestone Technology Corridor,” anchored by the new $100 million Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations’ technical center farther down on South Main.

Blickle last year amassed about three acres in the block, paying $500,000 for the church property and $250,000 for an old building that once was a Verizon retail store at 764 S. Broadway, east of where the church stood.

Blickle wanted the Verizon property so customers could enter the McDonald’s from Broadway, as well as Thornton and Main.

Blickle said the McDonald’s will be built on the northern half of the block, across from the Thornton Street fire station. This site previously was the parking lot for Church of the Good Shepherd.

Site preparation should begin in the spring and construction should begin in August, with the McDonald’s opening by the end of 2013.

This McDonald’s will employ about 60 to 65 full- and part-time workers, about 25 more than the number of employees at Wolf Ledges.

Blickle said the national retailer plans to build next year on the southern half of the property — where the church building stood.

The new McDonald’s will open months after the permanent closing of the westbound Interstate 77-76 ramp at Wolf Ledges, across the highway. The ramp closing, set for Dec. 17, means motorists traveling west on the interstate who exit at Wolf Ledges to go to the McDonald’s, will have to travel a little farther to get back on the interstate. The other ramps at the Wolf Ledges interchange will remain open.

The Ohio Department of Transportation and local officials have been talking about shutting down the westbound ramp for years, because motorists entering the highway must dodge vehicles exiting onto South Main or Broadway.

Concerning the Rubber City corporate offices, Blickle said they would remain where they are, in a 6,000-square foot office building at 500 Grant St., east of downtown.

Blickle said his company needs more space. But he said, “it’s not a high priority for us. If we find the right place, we’ll move.”

“We don’t make money at the office building, we make money in the restaurants.”

Meanwhile, the new McDonald’s on Graham Road in Cuyahoga Falls is set to open Dec. 28. It replaces a smaller building, which was demolished.

This $3 million, 6,000-square foot facility “ended up being built in 64 days, which is a record for us,” Blickle said.

Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or kbyard@thebeaconjournal.com.