If You Build it

I would be surprised if the Herberger’s space stays vacant for very long

By Kellyn Brown

News that Herberger’s would be closing just a year after it doubled in size had plenty of locals speculating about what could replace it. Eighty-thousand square feet is a lot of inventory, but, as the mall manager said in an interview, with the recent remodel and expansion it “could be a turn-key operation.”

When I first heard about the closure, I immediately gathered anyone who would listen to me pitch my own idea for a new tenant. “OK, picture this. A bowling alley, arcade and indoor miniature golf course with a glassed-in bar near the back where parents can mingle and watch sports while their children run wild.”

Some of my colleagues were receptive to the idea. Others just stared. My experience in the entertainment business is limited, but I did work a single summer at Wonderland Golf and Games on north side of Spokane. I ran the go-carts, which, if there is enough room, could be added to my proposal.

Seriously. Kalispell shows up to just about anything that caters to families. With a large number of young parents in the city, they turn out in droves for Thursday!fest, Picnic in the Park, the Christmas Stroll and anything else that caters to the all-ages crowd.

The north and south valley have bowling alleys. Kalispell’s burned down in 2004. The county’s population has grown enough where it could support some sort of larger entertainment option. And this one would be right downtown and actually have enough parking to accommodate a crowd.

When the train tracks are pulled up and the linear park is completed on the north side of the mall, this would be a fine addition to restaurants and retail that city planners are hoping to attract to the area. But it would be a really enticing option during the shoulder seasons, when the sky is gray, the lakes are cold and the ski resorts are closed. Those four to six months out of the year is when cooped-up families need somewhere to go.

This proposal, of course, is probably a long shot. It’s far more likely that a traditional retailer takes over a building that was, after all, built for retail. Some suggestions from our readers include a Dillard’s, Burlington Coat Factory, Kohl’s and Old Navy. Others recommended grocery stores such as Trader Joe’s or Lucky’s Market. Another reader thought it would be a good spot for the new jail — although I think that was a joke.

All those ideas, save for the jail, are reasonable. But I do hope potential tenants that would otherwise not consider moving into a mall would consider moving into this one. It is uniquely located so close to downtown and is at the heart of the Kalispell core area’s redevelopment plan, which has an ultimate goal of connecting the west and east sides of town with a landscaped trail system.

With a changing retail landscape having to adapt to more shoppers purchasing goods online, it’s more difficult to fill large empty spaces than it used to be. Abandoned malls across the country have been transformed into everything from data centers to haunted houses. I’m more optimistic about the fate of the Herberger’s site, but at once hope some more unorthodox proposals surface. If not an entertainment center, what about downtown residences?

It will be interesting to see what emerges, but I would be surprised if the space stays vacant for very long.

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