WILLMAR - In a move that could significantly shake up discussion about where a potential new Willmar City Hall could be located, RockStep Capital, the owner of the Kandi Mall, proposes the city consider moving city operations and the Willmar Community Center to the mall.
"We think we can be the lowest-cost option for the city," RockStep CEO Andy Weiner said Wednesday in an interview.
The proposal sent Wednesday afternoon to the mayor and the Willmar City Council says the city could either buy or lease 50,000 square feet of the former Herberger's location at the mall on South First Street. RockStep also proposed that some of the large parking lot could be turned into green space, to not only warm up the aesthetics of the location, but provide outdoor space for the Community Center.
"We wanted to at least make the offer," Weiner said. "The goal is to start a conversation."
The RockStep proposal offers a purchase price of $785,000 for the property. A possible lease cost was not included in the proposal.
Among a handful of conditions in RockStep's proposal: The city would handle all snow removal at the mall and the city would pay to have the parking lot west of the Kmart side of the mall upgraded with new asphalt.
Mayor Marv Calvin said while the offer from RockStep caught him a little flat-footed, he believes it deserves to be discussed.
"Everytime someone puts something on the table, it needs to be looked at," Calvin said.
Since January, the Willmar City Hall Task Force, made up of City Council members and city staff, has been trying to find a site for a new city hall.
A new Willmar Community Center is one of the six projects projected to be funded by the local option sales tax approved by voters in November. Legislative approval of the tax is pending.
In the early days of the city hall discussions, the mall was mentioned as a potential site but it was never seriously considered, mostly because the city has focused on a downtown location for city offices. Also at the time, Calvin said, leasing mall space was the only option discussed.
Now, however, RockStep is offering to sell property, though it is still open to leasing.
"This is a totally different proposal than we've seen before," Calvin said.
There are questions about how much remodeling and maintaining that amount of space would cost the city. Weiner said it would be the city's responsibility to prepare the space for its use.
Weiner considers the proposal a win-win for both the mall and the city. The city would be able to move into a building located in the main commercial center of the city with a lot of space and high visibility, and the mall would gain a new tenant that would bring more people to the mall.
Kohl's is scheduled to open in October in half of the former Kmart space, and the mall is in talks with other national retail chains to fill the remaining portion of the Kmart. However, Weiner said there just are not enough viable retailers left to fill the former Herberger's space.
"These (mall) properties are going through a transition. They are going away from being 100 percent retail to mixed use," Weiner said.
By possibly moving to the mall, the city could help RockStep in that endeavor.
"It helps RockStep transition the property into something stable," Weiner said. "Just bringing activity - and transition the property to muti-use - will be spearheaded by the city."
RockStep's proposal comes just a couple of days before the City Hall Task Force will conduct a second public input meeting on a possible site for the city hall project.
This meeting is slated to gather citizen feedback on whether to remodel the current Willmar City Office building; tear down and build a new building on the current site; or purchase Block 25, the old Nelsen's Laundry site, and build a new structure there. The meeting is scheduled from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Friday in the training room at the Willmar Fire Station.
Whether the RockStep proposal will be brought up at the meeting Friday, or when it may be discussed by the task force or council, is unknown at this moment.
Calvin said it will be vetted, just like other proposals the city has received.
"It is something we will take a serious look at," Calvin said.