Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has set its sights on another troubled suburban Twin Cities mall. Fresh off news that the discounter is finally coming to Brooklyn Center, the retail giant confirmed Thursday that it's preparing to buy the Four Seasons Mall in Plymouth.
Plans call for another 150,000 square-foot Wal-Mart Super Center, similar to the store planned for the old Brookdale Center site. Company spokeswoman Lisa Nelson said Wal-Mart is looking to close on the purchase in about 30 days. No one would discuss the terms.
"The key here is it's a revitalization of a very distressed retail area," Nelson said. "We're really looking forward to what we can do for the area."
Arkansas-based Wal-Mart, which has 17 stores in the Twin Cities, has been taking on competitor Target Corp. on Target's home turf, expanding to more urban locations with smaller stores.
Steve Juetten, community development director for the city of Plymouth, said he's met with Wal-Mart twice in the last three months and that Wal-Mart presented a conceptual plan for the entire site, about 17 acres, that included building a 150,000-square-foot store with a garden center.
The project is the early stages, Juetten said. Wal-Mart hasn't yet filed applications for planning approvals or for the rezoning that would be required to put a big-box store in the spot.
Gatlin Development Co., the Tennessee-based Wal-Mart developer that's buying and redeveloping the Brookdale site, isn't involved with the Plymouth deal, Nelson said. Wal-Mart plans to buy the Plymouth site directly.
The Plymouth strip mall is owned by Four Seasons II LLC, a group of investors represented by Twin Cities resident Robert Rappaport. Rappaport said his group has talked to Wal-Mart for years about the site, but that he couldn't discuss recent developments.
"If they intend to purchase it, that's great," he said.
Property records show Rappaport's group bought the mall in 1996 for $2.74 million. They listed it for sale in 2008 for $12.5 million. Last year, the county valued the property at $8 million.
Built in 1978, the tired, half-empty mall sits at 4200 N. Lancaster Lane at the intersection of County Road 9 (Rockford Road) and Hwy. 169 in Plymouth. Tenants include a Fresh & Natural Foods, Curves, Marcello's Pizza & Pasta and Bahn Thai, a Thai restaurant. The mall is just over 50 percent occupied, Rappaport said.
Wal-Mart got a warm welcome with the city of Brooklyn Center, where the ghostly Brookdale site is gaping hole in the city's central commercial area.
The discounter may not get the same reception in Plymouth. City officials are concerned about having a big-box store so close to single-family homes and townhouses, which border the mall in some spots, Juetten said.
"City staff does not believe this use fits in with the comprehensive plan for the city and specifically this area," Juetten said. "A big box is not what was envisioned for this property."
Juetten said that about a month ago the city started a transportation study, being paid for by Wal-Mart, to analyze the size of the building and whether existing roads can handle the projected traffic from the store. The study is nearly finished, he said.
Meanwhile, neighborhood concerns about potential noise and traffic are starting to be heard, he said.
Juetten suggested that Rappaport's group may have deliberately not leased up the mall in order to make it more marketable for redevelopment. Rappaport said that's not true, and that his group "made every effort" to fill the space, but the recession and credit freeze hit the mall and prospective tenants hard.
Chris Rains, a broker for Rains Properties, which manages an office building across the street from the Four Seasons Mall, said he's neutral about a Wal-Mart coming. But the site is great, he said, and a Wal-Mart grocery store would benefit nearby New Hope, which doesn't have many new grocery stores, he said.
"I think it's one of the most underutilized locations in the area," Rains said.
Jennifer Bjorhus • 612-673-4683