Mall Expansion Projects Gain Momentum

While hundreds of malls around the country struggle to stay open, the Kalispell Center Mall continues to thrive

Though it remains on the same foundations upon which it was built more than 30 years ago, the Kalispell Center Mall is a place of constant activity and transition — stores come and go, mall walkers wander the halls, and local groups host community activities there.

And while many malls in America are experiencing a slow death — inflicted by the emergence of online retail shopping as well as discount and wholesale stores — Kalispell’s cornerstone shopping mall is actively expanding, with big plans for the future.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, sales at department stores in the U.S. have plummeted, losing about $27 billion in revenue from 2005 to 2015. Time Magazine reported earlier this year that retail analysts believe roughly 400 of the remaining 1,100 indoor malls will fail in coming years.

Meanwhile, the Kalispell Center Mall is currently adding another 40,000 square feet of space to the existing Herberger’s, effectively doubling the store’s size. Once that addition is finished, expected in May, Herberger’s will begin remodeling the existing store with updates such as a loading dock, an elevator, new offices, and more.

There are also plans to expand into several acres just north of the mall across the train tracks that run through downtown. This development mirrors the Kalispell Core Area Revitalization Plan’s vision of improved walkability and connectivity between neighborhoods and city streets — once the railroad tracks are pulled up, a walking path will go in.

Eric Peterson, the property and leasing manager at Kalispell Center Mall, said many retailers and community members have responded well to the mall’s attempts to make itself a bigger player as a commercial and community hub.

“It’s a community center more than a mall,” Peterson said. “You can’t go to an (outdoor walking mall) and do a Boy Scout pinewood derby.”

The Kalispell Center Mall has been serving local shoppers since 1986, with 300,000 square feet of indoor space for commerce and community. Its halls have played host to the aforementioned derbies, jazz festivals, book sales, New Year’s Eve activities, and more.

WSPGB Mall Inc. purchased the mall about four years ago, with plans to make it more of a force in Kalispell’s downtown commercial renaissance.

This meant doing the little things that most shoppers might not notice, Peterson said. The company reinvested what Peterson called a “significant chunk of change” in updates, such as a new HVAC system, new skylights, repaving and repairing the parking lot, remodeling the bathrooms, and more.

These investments show mall retailers, current and potential, that the owners are serious about keeping it afloat, Peterson said.

“We’re investing back into the property and the community,” Peterson said. “Other retailers, when we’re telling them what we’re doing, they say, ‘We want to do something with you.’”

This financial dedication is part of the reason Peterson believes the mall’s occupancy rates have been so high. When WSPGB purchased the mall, the storefronts were 84 percent occupied, he said. Currently, occupancy rates are up to a little more than 97 percent, with more tenants expected to sign on soon.

The potential expansion across the tracks has also drawn interest from retailers, Peterson said. There are several plans drawn up for what it could look like, depending on different tenant needs, but all likely include storefronts along and access from the future walking path. Vehicular access will likely connect both of the mall’s properties allowing for better traffic flow, and there will be plenty of pedestrian access in all scenarios.

“Our hope is to start with a larger tenant that defines what we would do,” Peterson said. “It’s a blank slate pretty much at this point.”

Expanding north also adds to the mall’s goal of being a community hub, Peterson said, because the plans include a gathering place that could fit hundreds of people for a concert or other event.

But change isn’t always easy. To the distress of many fans, Anna’s Greek Gyros, a tenant in the mall for 31 years, has sold, and a Vietnamese-fusion restaurant will move in. Other new shops include Bamboo Espresso and Bamboo Hut, and Peterson said there would be more announcements once the ink is dry on the contracts.

Peterson said the mall’s success is built from the employees up, and the community within the mall is tight-knit. So while some forces of commerce might be out of management’s control — Peterson said the market plays an obvious role — the plan is to continue growing as a hub for the valley.

“We do a good job of being a community center,” Peterson said.

For more information, visit www.KalispellCenterMall.com.