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RockStep Capital seeks changes to Uptown Willmar mall lots with new restaurant possibly on the way

The Willmar Planning Commission on Wednesday took its first look at proposed changes to the lots that make up the Uptown Willmar mall property. The owner of the mall, RockStep Capital, wants to create five separate lots, including one for the old Pizza Hut, which could soon be home to Slim Chickens.

Uptown Willmar sign and former Pizza Hut restaurant location in front of the mall in Willmar shown April 7, 2022
A new restaurant, Slim Chickens, could be moving into the old Pizza Hut building in front of Uptown Willmar mall. To get ready for the new business, RockStep Capital, which owns the mall, is asking for Willmar Planning Commission and City Council approval to subdivide the property into a separate lot from the mall.
Shelby Lindrud / West Central Tribune file photo

WILLMAR — As RockStep Capital, owner of the Uptown Willmar mall, continues to endeavor to bring new business to the shopping center, it has proposed a change to how its land holdings in Willmar are mapped out.

The Willmar Planning Commission at its meeting Wednesday got its first look at the changes. A vote is expected at an upcoming meeting.

"Instead of just doing this piecemeal, one piece at a time, they've come up with a plan to get this all done with one plat," said Bill O'Mally of O'Mally & Kron Land Surveyors Inc.

If approved by the commission and then the Willmar City Council, RockStep would separate its property into five different lots, and one would include a potential new restaurant in the former Pizza Hut location on First Street South.

Lot 1 would be a new, one-acre allotment on the east side of the mall building on the north end of the property.

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"It is just for future development," O'Mally said. "They were thinking an acre was a good size for this kind of use," similar to the properties where Aspen Dental, Starbucks and Auto Zone now sit.

Uptown Willmar Herbergers April 7 2022.JPG
RockStep Capital, owner of the Uptown Willmar mall, wants to create a new, independent lot in the northeast quadrant of the mall property, near the old Herberger's, for future development. The site of the closed department store will also be a separate lot on the property, available for purchase.
Shelby Lindrud / West Central Tribune

Lot 2 would be the entire old Herberger's site, for which RockStep wants to find a separate buyer. The lot line, which currently cuts through other retail spaces in the mall, would be moved slightly to encompass just the more than 80,000-square-foot box on the mall's north end.

Lot 3 would be the rest of Uptown Willmar, while Lot 5 would be the strip mall to the south, which Anytime Fitness and Golden Palace call home.

Probably the most anticipated news is what will fill the long-empty Pizza Hut building, to be Lot 4 in the new plan. At the meeting, it was announced the possible new tenant is Slim Chickens , a fast-casual restaurant that specializes in chicken tenders, wings and sandwiches.

Lot 4 will also need to be rezoned from shopping center to general business, to allow for the restaurant's proposed drive-thru.

There was discussion by the Planning Commission about whether the entire special zoning designation for shopping centers should be removed as there doesn't seem to be a real need for it.

"It just doesn't make sense," said Planning and Development Director Justice Walker. The commission and department staff have been going through the city's zoning ordinance, to clean it up, and a change to the shopping center zone could be taken up then.

The Planning Commission will most likely vote on the subdivision and zoning changes for the RockStep Capital property at an upcoming meeting.

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Planning Commissioner Stephanie Carlson asked if a stipulation could be added regarding the need to improve the mall's parking lot. While Walker said the city's Public Works Department often gets calls about the parking lot's condition, the city's hands are tied.

"It is not ours," Walker said.

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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