July 24--^pIt's not easy losing two anchor tenants within six months on one of Billings' busiest retail corridors, but Jim Boorman is already bouncing back.
Boorman is the managing partner of Central Avenue Plaza on 24th Street West, which saw Sports Authority close last week and Hancock Fabrics go out of business in April.
Both stores, just a few hundred yards from each other, closed after their parent companies declared bankruptcy, and Boorman said he thinks the space will work for a new tenant.
He said he's already found two new occupants for the 12,000-square-foot Hancock Fabrics space. Renovations have begun for Diversity Dance Studio to move from its current home on Grand Avenue, and another locally-owned business, Telos Fitness, will occupy the other half in the fall, Boorman said.
He added that he's received multiple inquiries on the 40,000-square-foot Sports Authority space, but he acknowledges it will be harder to fill the larger space.
Despite these recent losses, and the gaping hole Kmart will leave nearby when it closes July 31, Boorman said he likes his position on the busy 24th Street West corridor.
"That location remains very strong, so we're really optimistic about what's happening," Boorman said last week.
As the home to Rimrock Mall and other big-box stores, 24th Street West has long been a retail destination for shoppers around the region. New development has created new competition, particularly on the city's western edge, but the intersection at Central Avenue still has one of the city's highest traffic counts.
The recent big vacancies along 24th Street have been a blow, but city planners say they don't think they're fatal. In fact, they may present an opportunity to bring fresh development.
"In terms of the bigger picture, it's probably not an indicator of major concerns along that corridor. It's opening up some ideas and options for revitalizing around that (Central and 24th) corner... I think that will continue to carry that area, and I think somebody else will see that, yeah, something is going on around there," said Wyeth Friday, city/county planning manager.
In April, parent company Sears Holdings announced it was closing 68 Kmart stores nationwide, including the one in Billings. Like many brick-and-mortar retailers, the company had been battered for years by the rise in online shopping and had fallen behind better positioned competitors like Home Depot and Walmart.
Sears officials said they were hoping the closures would help the company return to profitability.
In Billings, the closure leaves 105,000 square feet of retail space vacant on a huge, 12-acre lot.
Broker David Mitchell of Coldwell Banker Commercial said he and his partner, Chandler Griffin, began receiving inquiries about the space immediately after the closure announcement.
The two are currently in talks with one large tenant to take over the space, and, if it works out, a smaller strip mall could be built closer to the street, according to Mitchell.
Other groups have expressed interest in redeveloping the store with multiple tenants -- a sort of walking mall concept, he added.
None of these prospects have been deterred by this recent spate of retail failures in the neighborhood, Mitchell said. They know that not every retailer will struggle in such a high-traffic area, he said.
"When you say Kmart moved out, everybody understands that Kmart is a dying brand. It's more understood."
For the Sports Authority space, Boorman said he's looking for a specific type of anchor tenant, one that has staying power. A hardware store would work well, as would a grocery store, he said.
The property was originally home to Safeway when it was built in the early 1980s, and it was also home to Payless Drug and Gart's Sports.
Other tenants in the strip mall are Chuck-E-Cheese pizza, a state liquor store, the Black Diamond Casino, One Source Lighting and Express Print Pack.
Boorman said a new tenant would revitalize the neighborhood and help other businesses.
"You take the opportunity to improve the property. We're feeling pretty good about that 24th Street corridor," he said.
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