WILLMAR—While the Kandi Mall in Willmar has so far dodged any store closings in recent months, Andy Weiner, president of RockStep Capital, who owns the retail center, warned the Willmar Planning Commission that the mall could be facing an unsure future.
“This property is too big for current and future retail in Willmar. That is a fact,” Weiner said during a conference call with the commission on May 10.
Department stores and national retail brands are struggling with plummeting sales, as more and more shoppers go online, or decide to spend less on apparel.
“We are going through a revolutionary time in the retail industry. The Amazon effect is stealing trips from normal shopping venues like the Kandi Mall,” Weiner said.
To keep malls and shopping centers economically viable into the future, Weiner said owners are looking for new and original ways to bring tenants in.
“We’ve seen them redevelop into all types of multi-use. We’re seeing this across the board,” Weiner said.
Multi-uses include training centers, office space, medical offices, light manufacturing, storage, government offices, education and hospitality. A RockStep property in Vicksburg, Mississippi includes Alcorn State University, a military recruiter, a martial arts studio and a bowling alley as tenants. Another RockStep center in Globe, Arizona has offices for the Department of Agriculture, Edward Jones, Arizona Health Care and the Arizona Department of Administration, along with a training center for Freeport-McMoRan, a mining company.
“Those are mainstream, next-generation uses for properties that are too big for the market today,” Weiner said.
Weiner said he wanted to have a discussion with the Planning Commission about possibly opening the mall to more multi-uses, beyond the traditional stores and restaurants. He wanted to be sure the city’s zoning ordinances would allow for different uses.
“We want to be prepared to shift quickly into mixed use when it comes our way,” Weiner said.
Willmar does have an ordinance for the Shopping Center District zone, which the mall falls under. The ordinance currently has 26 permitted uses for a shopping center, including athletic/recreation facilities, broadcast studios, medical clinics, business and professional offices, printing shops, grocery stores, tire sales and convenience stores with gasoline sales.
Willmar Planning and Development Director Bruce Peterson said he felt reviewing the ordinance and possibly updating it to include additional uses is doable.
“Looking at ways to broaden the uses to maintain the economic viability of that facility,” Peterson said.
The commission seemed open to Weiner’s possibilities.
“I certainly see it as viable. It is something you see in the large cities currently. I don’t see why it would not work in a city like Willmar,” Commissioner Margaret Fleck said.
While RockStep wants to keep its options open for Kandi Mall, retail is still it’s main focus for the center.
“We’re working with multiple national retailers and we are hoping some of them will open in the Kmart building next year,” Weiner said.
However, RockStep wants to make sure the Kandi Mall has its spaces filled with rent-paying tenants.
“You don’t want to keep it empty. No one knows what the endgame is for the Amazon effect. At the end of the day we don’t want an empty property there,” Weiner said.
Peterson said he and staff will work with mall management to see what additions might be needed to the zoning ordinance. Staff recommendations will come back to the commission at a later meeting.
“Our economy is evolving so quickly we need to recognize those trends and be nimble enough on the local level that we maintain good compatible uses but that don’t get in the way of viable free enterprise,” Peterson said.
West Central Tribune by Shelby Lindrud