Plans for the construction of a new shopping center in Soldotna are moving forward and could signal the city's status as a burgeoning retail hub.
The proposed 80,000 square-foot mall would be built at the intersection of the Sterling and Kenai Spur highways in the space now occupied by two buildings housing stores such as River City Books, Gourmet Garden Market & Deli, and Susan's Bath & Body Boutique.
David Irwin, president of the Bellevue-based Irwin Development Group that is in charge of the project, said both national chains and local businesses have expressed interest in leasing space at the prospective center.
"We've been in talks with some businesses that are not part of Soldotna right now," said Irwin, whose other development projects in Anchorage and Fairbanks play host to major retailers like Sports Authority, Famous Footwear, and Petco. "And we've had some talks with existing Soldotna businesses. It'll be a healthy mix."
Irwin said he and Soldier Creek Corporation, the family-run organization that currently owns the land, have agreed on a purchase price for about 13 acres. The sale hasn't officially closed yet, as Irwin does not want to move forward without having a solid group of businesses officially invested to the project.
"It comes down to how quickly we can get some of these tenants to sign on the dotted line," he said. "We won't buy (the land) with just a handful of tenants saying, 'Yeah, we like it.' It really comes down to leasing commitments."
Irwin said that he could not reveal the specific retailers involved with the development at this time. Steve Bowler, a Coldwell Banker Commercial real estate agent hired by Irwin to entice retailers into leasing space, said there are several variables companies look at before investing in a new place.
"Most all retailers want to know what the incomes are for an area," Bowler said. "Some retailers have income requirements they want to see. They know what type of customer they usually attract and income has a lot to do with it."
Bowler said a lot of national retailers from the Lower 48 will enter the market in Anchorage and then look to branch out to other parts of the state from there.
"Wasilla, Fairbanks and Juneau are their next choice after Anchorage," he said, "but Soldotna's trade area is large enough to get them to consider a store there."
While most of the land will be devoted to housing the central retail space, Irwin plans for some parcels to be subdivided and sold off to interested parties. These "pads" -- or free-standing buildings -- would not be leased, and instead owned by the respective businesses.
"There are some retailers that want to be out near the street, that don't want to be back in line with the building," said Irwin. "They would buy it (the pad) and then they would be responsible for the construction."
Despite the seemingly nebulous nature of the venture, Irwin is confident that the mall will come to fruition within the next year or so.
"I think the majority of the center will be built by next summer," he said.
After the land is purchased and space is leased, Irwin plans to hire a contractor to level the old buildings on the property and erect the shopping center.
Karen Garcia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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