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New look for prominent First Street storefronts in Willmar, Minn.

An update of the commercial property on South First Street, where the Runnings store had been located for years before moving to its current location, has created modern retail and office space at Plaza One North in Willmar. Owned by the Willmar 10 Investors, the property in the 1300 block of South First Street underwent a half-million-dollar renovation this year. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)

WILLMAR -- Local investors have given new life and a new look to a South First Street retail location.

Willmar 10 Investors, a commercial real estate investment partnership, has updated the site of the former Runnings Farm and Fleet store into a modern retail and office building called Plaza One North, located in the 1300 block of South First Street.

Plaza One North is located across the parking lot and just north of Plaza One, another retail location owned by Willmar 10.

Construction planning took place in November and December 2011. The 15,000-square-foot remodeling project, at a cost of more than half a million dollars, began in January and was completed this year.

Winter weather conditions were favorable for the work. Businesses moving into Plaza One North are doing their own build-outs, said Dion Warne, a partnership member.

Warne said many people asked why the Plaza One North building sat empty for so long before the remodeling project got under way.

Runnings moved to the site in 1997. The previous occupant had been Orscheln Farm and Home. After Runnings bought and moved into the former Walmart building on South First Street near the Highway 71/23 bypass, Runnings still had four years remaining on the lease.

Warne explained the partnership decided to wait until the lease expired and until conditions caused by the economic downturn improved.

Warne says partnership member Bill Graves was instrumental in the remodel design. Warne said Graves has other properties around the state and has seen other buildings and strip mall developments.

"It was nice for him to get involved and focus us in on a design there, and I have to tell you we've had nothing but compliments from people,'' Warne said.

"A lot of people like the look of it and how we accentuated that southeast corner of it. As soon as you start working on a building in Willmar, everybody drops by, asking what is happening. It was kind of fun to get rolling on it.''

Willmar 10 Investors, organized in 1982, owns about 83,000 square feet of commercial space in Willmar. Their first property was Appletree Square on U.S. Highway 12 East where a branch of Home State Bank opened in Willmar. Other properties owned by Willmar 10 are Point Plaza on Highway 12 East and the Lakeland Professional Center on Lakeland Drive near Highway 12 East.

Warne says the First Street South location is one of the busiest places in town. The drive-through between Plaza One and Plaza One North is actually private property, but the investors are willing to continue to let the public use it as a way through to the Cash Wise area.

"I think that people that are possible tenants like the fact that there's a lot of exposure,'' Warne said.

He and Graves are optimistic about the future. They say there are a lot of things going on in town right now and that's good for the city and the community.

"Willmar is a regional hub,'' says Graves, who owns Domino's Pizza. "You've got a lot of self-employed-based businesses here that seem to develop and grow. I started here in 1985 with one store and now we're going to exceed a hundred stores in the next year. It's been a good town for us to grow and develop in. It's a good base and it's a good environment for growth in small business.''

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150