It's taken longer than expected, but Shingle Creek Crossing, anchored by a busy Wal-Mart, is gaining momentum as three mostly leased outlot buildings are nearing completion and a new LA Fitness is expected to open this month, Brooklyn Center officials say.
The latest change at the former Brookdale Mall site is a decision to demolish, not renovate, the old food court adjacent to Sears and erect a 110,000-square-foot building. It would be tailor-built for anchors T.J. Maxx clothing store and a Michael's crafts store, said Rich Kauffman, vice president of development and construction for Gatlin Development Co. He said by phone from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that he's negotiating with another clothing retailer that may also locate in the new building.
The most recent business signing up is Panda Express restaurant, whose building plans were approved by the City Council in June. The 2,500-square-foot free-standing restaurant with a drive-through will occupy an outlot next to LA Fitness. The fitness club is expected to open by late August, said Gary Eitel, business and development director for Brooklyn Center. He said the multitenant outlot buildings are a bit behind schedule because Gatlin had to resolve some initial financing snags by finding a new lender.
Tenants that will move into the three buildings nearing completion include LV Nails, Schlotzsky's Deli, T-Mobile, Pro Cuts, AT&T, Sprint and Qdoba Mexican Grill, Eitel said.
"I think we are over the hump," Eitel said. "It is a soft market. People are cautious. Once these spots begin to fill in, businesses will decide to make a commitment and move in. They can't procrastinate anymore."
Billy Sorge, of Crystal, is a supervisor at the Subway shop inside the Wal-Mart. The big store is always busy, he said, and the Subway has steady traffic. The new mall "is going to be nice for the area," he said, standing outside Wal-Mart.
The $100 million mall redevelopment was formally launched in September 2012 when the 186,218-square-foot Wal-Mart opened in a space near where Macy's, Mervyns and J.C. Penney once stood. Sears and Kohl's department stores remain from the Brookdale days.
Sears' approval is needed for the adjacent new anchor building in the food court space. Gatlin has made the modest changes Sears requested and sent plans back for review, Kauffman said. Assuming no further delays, he hopes to begin building the new anchor building this fall.
Kauffman said the slow economy has meant "a lot of hard work to get leases signed. As we get more signed and opened, it will perpetuate itself."
Eitel noted that since project demolition began in 2011, new owners of two nearby apartment complexes have spent millions on landscaping and upgrading their buildings. The 310-unit Lake Pointe and 256-unit Gateway Commons are within half a mile of the new mall.
City Manager Curt Boganey said Gatlin has made a lot of progress despite dealing with a weak, postrecession economy. "We are anxious to see the full development and it seems to me they are on schedule to get done in the next two years," he said.
The city has extended $4.7 million in various tax incentives, including a $2.4 million forgivable loan facilitated by the 2010 Minnesota Jobs Bill, and $2.3 million in a note to be paid off by increased taxes generated by the development. Eitel said $1 million of the loan can be reduced if Gatlin doesn't build 239,000 square feet of retail space by 2016.
Kauffman said that besides the Wal-Mart, LA Fitness and three almost-done multitenant buildings, Gatlin plans to build 13 more outlot buildings plus the big anchor building for Michael's and T.J. Maxx.
Mayor Tim Willson said the new mall is worth the city subsidy and is "pretty much on track. They are putting up new buildings and bringing in some new businesses." He said redevelopment stalled for more than a decade until Gatlin appeared and got it moving forward.
The new mall will shift customer focus from a regional shopping attraction to a community shopping center anchoring the city's central commerce district, Eitel said.
He said that besides the retail buildings, Gatlin investments have included laying perimeter bike trails and opening pipes to expose Shingle Creek on Wal-Mart's northeast side. Gatlin also installed 85 decorative streetlights on nearly 6,000 linear feet of rebuilt mall roads, added more than 13,700 feet of storm and sanitary sewers, about 8 acres of stormwater ponds and planted 617 trees and 6,545 shrubs, flowers and other plants.
Two other buildings are locating less than a mile north of the mall on Earle Brown Drive. Candlewood Suites plans an 81-unit hotel by Embassy Suites, and Restaurant Depot, a food supply business, has bought the vacant Best Buy store.
Roxanne Nelson, who works near the mall, was shopping at Wal-Mart last week. She said business is picking up since she used to walk the near deserted atrium halls of the old Brookdale. She said she is looking forward to shopping at the incoming anchors: "I like T.J. Maxx and Michael's."