When the new owners of the Kalispell Center Mall acquired the largest shopping center in Northwest Montana two months ago, they described the site as a landmark with a bright future.
That optimism has already manifested with improved vitality at a pivotal time for the city’s core area.
Kalispell Center Mall, a fixture and anchor in downtown since it opened in 1986, has its highest occupancy rate since before the Great Recession hit in 2008. This year’s overall first quarter sales were also as strong as they were in 2007, according to mall executives.
The mall recently welcomed Zumiez, a nationwide retailer of apparel, footwear and equipment related to action sports, opened a new store inside the mall last month. The arrival raised the number of tenants to 47, while fewer than five vacant storefronts remain up for lease inside the 300,000-square-foot shopping center.
Across from the new Zumiez, Maurices, a source for women’s fashion clothing and apparel, is undergoing a major expansion that will feature a brand new store roughly twice the size of its current one.
Being in healthy shape with tenants and sales, the mall is poised to play a key role in the city’s grand redevelopment scheme. Projects leaders of the Kalispell Core Area Revitalization Plan envision a list of changes, such as improved walkability and connectivity between neighborhoods and city streets, that could spur private reinvestment in the heart of town.
One goal of the emergent redevelopment plan is to remove the downtown section of railroad tracks that separate city blocks and neighborhoods, including the north side of the mall.
A mall executive said plans are taking shape to possibly develop 3.5 acres on the north side where the tracks could be replaced by an extensive pathway. Negotiations are also taking place with other retailers that have expressed interest in moving into Kalispell’s mall.
“We’re really excited about the direction that we’re headed,” said David Peterson, executive vice president of the Goodale & Barbieri Company out of Spokane, which recently reacquired Kalispell Center Mall.
“I’ve been around the Flathead Valley for 30 years and I am more excited about the future of the valley today than I’ve ever been. I’m not only talking retail. I’m talking about bringing businesses in and people wanting to move to the valley because of the quality of life.”
In an interview last week, Peterson described the mall’s evolving identity as a “major player in downtown” while Kalispell continues to grow as the commercial hub in this corner of the state.
“We want to be complementary to what’s happening in the entire market,” he said. “We really want to be a major player in downtown Kalispell to help the vitality of downtown. That’s why I built the center mall 27 years ago in that location.”
Peterson, who originally developed and managed the mall, has kept a watchful eye on Kalispell and was instrumental in the recent reacquisition of the property.
Woodbury Strategic Partners, based in Salt Lake City, and an affiliate of Spokane-based Goodale & Barbieri Company, partnered together to acquire the facility in April for $11.6 million.
Peterson said the city’s redevelopment plan is encouraging, especially the efforts being made to establish a new industrial rail park that would allow the tracks’ removal from downtown.
“At the end of the day, if and when those tracks get removed, that’s going to open up an entire corridor for development,” he said. “That would not just benefit our project, it would benefit all of downtown Kalispell.”
A feasibility study of several phases of the core area plan is finished and could be presented to city council later this month for review. A federal grant application was submitted earlier this month seeking assistance in developing the rail park, and the results will be announced in the early fall.
The core area plan features several phases and goals that could gain steam in the coming years. And early renderings of the plan, developed by CTA Engineers Architects, show the Kalispell Center Mall as a prominent figure in the heart of a redeveloped section of town.
“They’re a key property in the core area and really connect closely with downtown. It’s important to recognize that relationship,” said Kathrine Thompson, the city’s community development manager who’s working closely on the revitalization plan.
“Certainly we want to see good things happen in our downtown area, that includes the mall. We’re happy that they’re seeing some success in their efforts. We certainly hope more good things are coming.”
Peterson predicts more good things in the near future. Canadian shoppers have become a boon for business and the improved economy is leading to better retail sales. Also, Kalispell’s overall profile as a business center has risen with the arrival of nationwide chains like Cabela’s.
“There may have been a pause for awhile because of the world economy, but we’re getting out of that now,” he said. “The draw for the Flathead Valley is stronger today, I think, than it’s ever been.”