The retail giant will open Wednesday in Brooklyn Center in the first phase of the redevelopment of the site of the old Brookdale mall.
They call it Shingle Creek Crossing now, but many will likely refer to the shopping center by its former name, Brookdale.
The notoriously decrepit mall in Brooklyn Center was largely torn down during the summer of 2011, and a new Wal-Mart store has risen in its wake. On Wednesday, the developer, city officials and residents will gather to celebrate the opening of a new retail power center -- with the grocery/discount store serving as the main anchor.
Fresh mulch has been spread throughout the newly landscaped site, as workers busily stocked shelves and street cleaners gussied up the tarmac on Tuesday.
The $100 million project is "a tremendous boost for the economic development potential for this community," said Brooklyn Center city planner Tim Benetti.
Wal-Mart is part of the first phase of a broader redevelopment project by Florida-based Gatlin Development Co. for the site, which is at the nexus of Hwy. 100 and Brooklyn Boulevard in the near-northern suburb. The city extended $4.7 million in various incentives, including a $2.4 million loan facilitated by the 2010 Minnesota Jobs Bill, and $2.3 million in a note to be paid off by taxes generated by the development.
The 186,218-square-foot Wal-Mart store anchors the site, along with existing Kohl's and Sears stores. Roughly 750,000 square feet of the old mall was torn down, including the old Macy's, Mervyns and J.C. Penney stores.
The now-vacant food court portion was kept intact, as well as the area connecting it to Sears. That corridor, which still bears the cheery multicolor signs from Brookdale, will undergo a "reskinning" to make way for future tenants. Already, T.J. Maxx, LA Fitness and a Michaels craft store have signed on as tenants.
"It was a monster of a project," said Gatlin CEO Frank Gatlin, who first toured the site three years ago after hearing of Wal-Mart's interest in the area. Gatlin's real estate development firm, which he founded in 1976, has long focused on building Wal-Mart-anchored shopping centers, as well as residential projects.
First project in Minnesota
Shingle Creek Crossing is the company's first project in Minnesota, and among the most challenging he's ever dealt with, Gatlin said.
"You had...utilities underground that we had to figure out," he said. Plus, the Sears store is not owned by Gatlin -- the middle-market retailer preferred to remain independent.
The project also involved unearthing a portion of Shingle Creek, which had been buried years ago. The creek can now serve as a natural design attraction for future restaurants on the site. Uncovering the creek in this way cost Gatlin between $1.5 million to $2 million.
When asked if he's ever unearthed a creek for a project, Gatlin replied in his native Louisiana drawl, "No, but I've covered a few up."
Brookdale suffered the same kind of woes that many enclosed shopping malls experienced nationwide in the past 20 years, Gatlin said. Department stores have lost their luster among shoppers, who like the grocery/discount format for convenience and affordability -- especially in tough economic times. And, Gatlin said, the location and highway accessibility of the Brookdale site made it a "10 out of 10."
Minneapolis retail consultant Jim McComb said Brookdale suffered over the past two decades from an out-of-town owner who used the property as a tax shelter, so investment in spiffing it up every seven to 10 years -- a retail maxim -- never really occurred on a sustainable basis. "It was inattentive asset management," he said.
Brookdale was the second of the four "Dale" malls to be built by the Dayton family after Edina's Southdale, which is heralded as the nation's first enclosed shopping mall. (Rosedale in Roseville and Ridgedale in Minnetonka followed.) While affluent shoppers flocked to Southdale, Brookdale's blue-collar customer base hampered its longevity.
McComb thinks Wal-Mart is a better fit for the Brooklyn Center trade area. "It will be a home run for Wal-Mart," he predicted.
Still, tiny indicators of the old Brookdale remain, including cartoon animal figures -- skunks, gators, kangaroos and bunnies -- on parking lot lampposts, which helped harried shoppers locate their cars. But now, the Wal-Mart store -- the $444 billion retailer's 20th in Minnesota -- is clearly the site's dominant player.
Janet Moore • 612-673-7752