The Parkade Center looks stripped down without its awnings, and inside, the smell of paints wafts up the stairs from the lower level — all proof of the adage that things usually have to get worse before they get better.
Columbia’s oldest mall is undergoing its first major face-lift since 1990, intended to make it more visible from Business Loop 70 and bring in new retailers and shoppers.
Major renovations are already under way inside and outside the center, bought by siblings Michael, Cris and Timothy Burnam and Kim Flowers from American Spectrum Realty at the end of August.
The new owners are investing $2 million on improvements, said Weyen Burnam, the mall’s leasing agent and son of Michael Burnam.
The plans include more windows, a paint job that will take the building from blue to natural tones, raising the roofline, landscaping, paving the parking lot and re-carpeting and painting the interior.
Beyond the mall, Weyen Burnam said he and its owners would like to see the power lines buried, vacant buildings upgraded and the Business Loop widened to accommodate a sidewalk.
A Business Loop 70 committee, formed by the city in 2001, had similar recommendations to make the corridor more visually appealing. Second Ward Councilman Chris Janku said the plans for adding a sidewalk and placing the utilities underground are moving forward and should begin this summer. Weyen Burnam said he had not yet spoken with other business owners in the area about making improvements.
The center, formerly known as Parkade Plaza, opened in 1965. It was the largest mall in mid-Missouri and, for years, the only mall between St. Louis and Kansas City. Longtime Columbia residents probably remember it for department store J.C. Penney, Kroger grocery store and the Flaming Pit, a popular steakhouse and family restaurant.
When J.C. Penney moved from Parkade to the Columbia Mall in 1987, the center’s troubles as a retail center began. The owners tried to keep the space alive by creating a mixed-use facility in 1987 for offices and retail, but by 1988 the former shopping mall had gone from 26 tenants to six. By 1989, government agencies and other businesses had begun to open their offices in the center.
The number of tenants has fluctuated over the years, and the center is now 75 percent occupied, leaving about 50,000 square feet of office and retail space, Weyen Burnam said.
The new owners have signed leases with Escape, an alcohol and drug counseling center; Cable Connection, a U.S. Cellular store; and Datacom, a copier and business solutions center. Weyen Burnam said they have also talked with a travel agency, a real estate training group, a high-end rent-to-own store based in Kansas City and a local entrepreneur interested in opening a used book, movie and music store.
Weyen Burnam said his goal is to reduce the available space to 10,000 or 15,000 square feet in the next year.
In the plans, the old J.C. Penney space — about 40,000 square feet — will be divided to create 1,000- to 1,500-square-foot storefront spaces with some larger spaces for dentists and medical offices.
The renovations have been well-received so far. “We’ve had nothing but good feedback from tenants,” Weyen Burnam said. “They are being patient with the renovation and are happy to have someone involved.”
When the work is done, Weyen Burnam said he hopes the draw will be especially strong for start-up businesses looking for relatively low rents. Storefront space with exterior access, depending on the length of the lease, is about $12 to $15 per square foot. The interior office space on the lower level ranges from $6 to $10 per square foot, depending on the renovation needed. That compares to a starting price of $14 per square foot for retail and office space at the new Liberty Square development near Interstate 70 and U.S. 63.
Weyen Burnam said most of the current tenants are in long-term leases, so rents won’t change until leases are renewed. He said the new management is looking at ways to separate some costs so, for example, each tenant will be responsible for his or her own metered utilities.
Lower rent was the reason Susan Pfau moved her business, Coffee, Tea and Spice, back to the mall after buying it out of bankruptcy from its previous owner, who had tried to make a go of it at Forum Boulevard and Chapel Hill Road. For a coffee seller, the number of office workers in the mall has proved to be another advantage. The center’s new building manager is among her morning regulars.
“The rent is much better here,” Pfau said. “And it is a very busy building.”
Dean Sherrill, owner of Midwest Rare Coins and Jewelry, said the renovations were long overdue. Sherrill bought an existing business in 1996, which he operates on the mall’s lower level.
“With the easy access and reasonable rent, this was an ideal location for a small business,” he said.
He said the building’s management sends him memos letting him know about work being done and what’s ahead. He said they have been good about making sure customers still have access to the store, no matter what kind of construction is taking place.
Pfau and Sherrill both expect increases in rent when their leases expire but said they hoped the changes to the building will be worth the increase.
“There is a lot going on — the place is a mess,” Pfau said. “But it’s going to be very nice, if it looks like the picture.”