WILLMAR—While he wasn’t able to give any specifics about possible new stores opening up in Willmar’s Kandi Mall, Andy Weiner, president of RockStep Capital, the owner of the shopping center, did say there has been movement. This is especially true for the empty Kmart portion of the mall, which has stood vacant since 2012.
“We have some major national tenants for the Kmart,” Weiner said. “One which could open next year.”
What Weiner would say of the two retailers is they are both found in the Twin Cities and St. Cloud.
Weiner and his team at RockStep have been working to fill the Kmart space since they purchased the mall in 2015.
This year they were thrown a curve ball when Bon-Ton, the owner of Herberger’s, went bankrupt and closed all of their stores. This included the one at the Kandi Mall, making it the second anchor store the mall has lost.
Weiner said he wasn’t shocked Bon-Ton went out of business, but he had hoped another retailer would have taken over the Willmar store, as it had been a high-performing location.
“The company was not in good shape, but I was surprised someone didn’t come into their space,” Weiner said.
In September 2016 the city, county and school district approved a 10-year tax abatement for Kandi Mall, to help fund a $6.5 million project at the mall, included remodeling the old Kmart and building a new retail building between the closed Pizza Hut and Tires Plus.
While the retail building has been completed and is now the home of Starbucks and Aspen Dental, the rest of the project improvements have not occurred. Weiner said RockStep is working with the city and county about the project, but is not at liberty to give any details.
“The city and county have been very cooperative with us,” Weiner said. “They understand that what is happening to properties likes this are not just a Willmar issue.”
RockStep Capital owns 19 retail properties across the country, but Kandi Mall is the only one that has lost two anchor stores, making it a different sort of challenge for RockStep. However, all malls are being impacted by the changing retail climate. To help keep malls full and profitable, RockStep has started looking at ways to diversify its tenants.
While stores are still a significant part of its plan, RockStep is also looking at less traditional avenues, including universities, government offices, hotels and entertainment.
“In the future, it will be 70 percent retail and 30 percent other,” Weiner said.
Weiner said malls can be a good location for government offices, like a city hall, because the malls are usually located in busy commercial areas of towns, have ample parking and in some cases cost less to rent.
Since malls are starting to change to fit the needs of the present and plan for the future, Weiner said a rebranding might be in order. The property names need to better illustrate what it is, a mixed-use space instead of entirely retail.
“Mall isn’t the appropriate word for them,” Weiner said.
While the last several years have been challenging for the Kandi Mall, Weiner is still optimistic about its future.
“The economy in Willmar is pretty good,” Weiner said.
West Central Tribune by Shelby Lindrud