By Joe Bachman
WISCONSIN RAPIDS — City officials have approved the use of real estate consultants to find the highest and best usage of the Rapids Mall.
With the recent closings of JC Penney and The Tea Shop, as well as Younkers leaving the area four years ago, consensus within the community is that the mall is “dying”. City officials will hire the services of Jeff Green Partners, which is a real estate consulting firm out of Phoenix, Ariz. to break open the potential that the property could hold.
“Most people are aware that it’s not doing well — there’s no longer any anchors,” said Community Development Director Adam Tegan. “There needs to be an analysis done of what the potential for that site is.”
At a cost of $35,000, Jeff Green Partners will assess the mall on all levels, including looking into market studies, research analysis around retail space, and identifying what the Rapids market would currently support based on population spending habits.
Another part of the study will delve into two separate assessments — the first of which are of hotel/motel rooms in Wisconsin Rapids, and if there are a need for more as a part of a redevelopment of the mall. Second, will be a look into potential housing for the space.
“While this study looks at the mall more specifically, it does still allow us to analyze what that retail and hotel need is,” said Tegan. “So it is possible that from an analysis like this we may be able to target people for the triangle development, for example. While the focus is on the mall, the data is transportable for outside of the mall.”
Funds used for the analysis will be taken out of the room tax fund, which has been earmarked for economic development. Estimated time of completion of the study could wrap up in as little as 60 days.
City Doesn’t Own the Rapids Mall
While the city has the right to assess the property, they don’t own the Rapids Mall, hence it would be on the owner to agree to any potential transformations of the property. It is important to note that this study will not effect current businesses in the mall.
Tegan still sees the positives to a such a study if any recommended changes to the mall is met with resistance.
“If that owner decides to completely disregard any attempt, either for acquisition or the development of that property, a portion of this may not be applicable — but since this is looking at Wisconsin Rapids and at-large, and that market — it’s still a useful tool.”
According to Mayor Zach Vruwink, recent closings in the mall have left a gap in certain markets which could lead to opportunity for development in the area.
“When MC Sports nationally went bankrupt, that left a gap in the market in and around sporting goods, and I think based on consumer preferences of community members and desires, when JC Penney leaves there’s going to be another gap,” said Vruwink. “There isn’t anyone providing in that space, and there are retailers expanding in that area, but it’s a matter of identifying them and what the market looks like.”
The Rapids Mall is located at 555 W. Grand Ave.