Can you teach an old mall new tricks?
Lee Ingrim and his son Spencer Ingrim think so. The local developers purchased the Lewis County Mall last fall with the aim to revamp the aging retail hub, repurposing big-box anchor spaces that once housed national retailers like J.C. Penney and Sears to adapt to an evolving retail landscape.
The new owners said a 40-unit apartment building will rise where there is now a mostly unused parking lot in the rear of the property. Two large spaces inside the mall will also soon be converted to a new school and storage-unit complex, along with plans recently approved by city officials for new restaurant buildings to be built on the 12-acre property.
“You have to change with the times or become a dinosaur,” Lee Ingrim said.
Ingrim has purchased and redeveloped several other major commercial properties in the area over the years, including the Fairway Shopping Center and a shopping center on Harrison Avenue where Goodwill is located. He also redeveloped Centralia’s historic Wilson Hotel into apartments.
He was enticed by the opportunity to revive the 50-year-old mall.
“I purchase places that for the most part need to be redeveloped and need a bit of time and energy — it just takes vision, insight and the ability to get it done,” Ingrim said.
After buying the property in November, efforts to bring the mall rumbling back to life began modestly with a fresh coat of paint. But that was just a start.
Construction is currently underway in a space that will soon house the Olympic Academy, open to students next school year. The academy will have a footprint of 22,000 square feet in a space once occupied by J.C. Penney, which closed in 1999 and heralded an exodus of other national retailers such as Radio Shack, Hallmark and Payless Shoes. WorkSource, a government agency, occupied the space in recent decades but moved out last summer.
Plans are now also being finalized for a 45,000-square-foot complex for storage units in a space that was formerly a Sears, the last national retailer to leave the mall. And city officials recently approved plans to add new building sites on the property for potential drive-thru restaurants.
Inside the mall, Ingrim said he plans to add some kind of dining service as well.
“There should be about 100-plus employees working there and it will be a good place to have some kind of coffee and food serving outlet,” Ingrim said.
With open space currently for lease next to the movie theater, ownership would also like to add another dining option in that spot.
“Ideally we’re trying to get a restaurant in there right next to the movie theater,” Spencer Ingrim said. “We’re working on that in conjunction with the mini-storage unit and the apartment complex in the fall.”
The mall currently has eight tenants, including Joe’s Outdoor Sports Shop and the 10-screen Midway Cinema theater, which opened in the early 2000s in a space that was formerly a Rite Aid.
Built in 1972 during the heyday of mall construction nationwide, the mall began to decline in the late 1990s as national chain stores vacated longtime anchor spaces for newer retail developments like Twin City Town Center and the Fairway Shopping Center. The mall pivoted to lure smaller local businesses with competitive lease rates.
Ingrim notes that rapidly evolving consumer habits have only intensified in recent years. But he’s optimistic about the broader local commercial real estate market going forward.
“The younger you are, the more apt you are to buy something online at 2 in the morning versus going to a Sears or J.C. Penney to walk around,” Ingrim said.
“But Lewis County is still a very strong market and it has a lot going for it. We’re working on putting new stores in, updating the mall and just making it a little more vibrant.”