Missoula Kmart’s soon-to-be former home on South Brooks Street has already generated buzz from new retail tenants, and owners of the building plan to renovate and quickly fill the space.
Sears Holding Corp. announced last week it’ll close the Missoula Kmart by the end of September. That was after Salt Lake City-based owners of the shopping plaza, Woodbury Corp., and Kmart came to a “mutual agreement” not to extend Kmart’s lease, said Woodbury president Randy Woodbury.
“With the Brooks and Reserve intersection being one of the higher traffic intersections frankly in the state of Montana, we feel like the property has been underutilized with its current tenant,” Woodbury said.
Kmart opened here in 1973, securing a lease through Woodbury in its then-new, 115,000-square-foot building.
In late December, Sears Holding revealed plans to close between 100 and 120 Kmart and Sears full-line stores, but none of the 10 in Montana.
Kmart spokesperson Kim Freely said Monday it was correct that the lease with Woodbury wasn’t renewed, adding that she “wouldn’t get into speculating reasons on why a lease wasn’t renewed.”
Freely also said she wouldn’t speculate on whether the Missoula location would have closed if the lease had been renewed.
Fifty Kmart employees will be out of jobs when the store closes in late September.
Woodbury is confident the space will be filled soon, creating more jobs in an updated retail space.
“I think it’s safe to say just since the announcement was made a few days ago, we are already receiving several letters of intent from retailers that want to be at the location,” Woodbury said.
Although his company has identified a “really good retailer we’re zeroed in on,” Woodbury declined to elaborate on exactly which retailers were interested.
Woodbury plans to make noticeable upgrades to the plaza, but exactly when and what will be done remains largely undetermined, Woodbury said.
“We have seen this as a redevelopment opportunity for a number of years,” he said. “Just as soon as we can determine who our users are going to be and what our revised site plan will be, we will be going to the city and going through the usual procedures (to do a renovation).”
Woodbury Corp. is a 92-year-old real estate business based in Salt Lake City. Woodbury owns and manages retail, office and hotel properties in seven Western states, Woodbury said.
The plaza on Brooks Street is the only Missoula property owned by Woodbury, which also owns University Shopping Square in Bozeman.
Woodbury said he hopes to incorporate the plaza’s other current tenant, Montana Homefitters furniture store, in the redevelopment of the building.
Homefitters moved to the plaza in March 2011.
Store general manager Brett Baisden believes the Kmart closure could prompt positive change in the plaza.
“I definitely think we’ll have a new tenant and it will be good for Missoula in the long haul. I think the jobs lost can be gained with new business,” Baisden said.
Best case scenario would be “another retail business, if not two or three more ... so we have more traffic coming to the shopping center and bringing in a variety of demography and people,” Baisden said.
Paradise Falls sports bar and restaurant opened across Highway 93 from Kmart 18 years ago.
Like Homefitters’ manager Baisden, Paradise Falls owner Tom McLaughlin sees opportunity in the change.
“It’s bitter news, but I believe it’s good news. ... We work off people and traffic, so whatever business goes over there if it creates a good, happy atmosphere, we will take care of them,” McLaughlin said.
Business owners in the area work well together trying to create a good atmosphere, McLaughlin said, weathering good times and bad. Adding a stable, high traffic business to the plaza would be ideal, he said.
“Times have changed, we’re waiting for it to get back on a roll.”