Saturday, April 2, 2016

Capital Mall Goes Green with Trail Project

Above: Kevin Johnston, general manager for Capital Mall in Olympia, Washington. Johnston and his executive team brainstormed a concept to create an eco-friendly, one mile trail with public amenities on mall property, along with other safety improvements. They entered the idea into a contest for national mall managers, and won $350,000 from corporate executives for their innovative idea.

Mall Makeover Could Increase City's Bottom Line

By Janine Gates

If you don’t go to the mall on Olympia’s westside, maybe now you will.

That’s the hope of Capital Mall general manager Kevin Johnston, who is creatively embarking on a one mile, multi-purpose trail project that will encircle the 65 acre mall property.

Johnston and his executive team recently brainstormed the idea and entered it into a “Shark Tank” type contest for national mall managers. With a catchy presentation and a homemade video about the project using a drone that flies over the proposed path of the trail, they beat out several other proposals, and won over the judges. 

Their innovative thinking earned them $350,000 from corporate executives toward construction of the project.

“....We thought, ‘Let's do something Olympia-ish. We jogged into the presentation and wore T-shirts that said Capital Trail on them,” Johnston laughed.

The project will improve and increase public access to and from the mall property by providing much needed walking paths from the surrounding city sidewalks. Six motion-activated, signaled crosswalks will be installed at each major traffic entrance and in busy areas.

Even as Johnston gave Little Hollywood a tour of the property in near 70 degree sunny weather on Thursday, pedestrians were seen bushwhacking through the green belt from city sidewalks to access the mall property, walking around traffic to enter the main building.

The trail is proposed to be made pervious, with recycled, rubberized mulch, and will include benches made with recycled wood and metal, pet sanitation stations, picnic tables and stretching/pull-up areas. It will connect to existing sidewalks and new walkways that will be constructed to create a continuous loop.

People will be welcome to relax and rest, or eat lunch in currently underutilized grassy areas by Fujiyama Japanese Steakhouse and Bar in the southwest corner of the property and 24 Hour Fitness in the northeast area of the property. The path will be in range of free Wi-Fi service from the mall. 

“It can be used for walking, jogging, exercising, and pets are welcome. It will be eco-friendly at every turn, constructed using recycled material wherever possible and include solar power lighting,” said Johnston, bursting with enthusiasm.

The trail will also be accessible in the evening. Asked about security, Johnston said the entire trail will be lit with lights low to the path, and mall security personnel drive around multiple times throughout the property, day and night.

In an outlying area called the Promenade, a ramp will be built to connect businesses such as TJ Maxx, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Ann Taylor Loft, Chico’s, and the locally owned Artist’s Gallery, to the main mall.

Johnston says no trees will be cut down for the project. A wetland near 24 Hour Fitness will be protected.

Capital Mall management already hosts about 120 or so morning walkers per day who walk or stroll through the mall before shops open. Members of the popular ritual, seniors and others looking for a safe place to walk, have long asked for an outdoor trail.

The economic benefits of the trail for the mall and the city could be significant.

“We project that we can bring at least, or more than, 100 extra people per day to the property by creating better access and providing a place for people to spend time exercising, jogging, and walking. If we convert 30 percent of them to customers, we can add an additional one million in sales per year. This will translate through to an increased tax revenue for the city,” said Johnston. He estimates that the amount to the city could be about $125,000 per year.

Johnston says he is looking forward to meeting with City of Olympia public works and parks, arts and recreation staff in April to see how access to city sidewalks can tie in with Yauger Park and the McLane trail system.

He has met with Renee Sunde, the city’s economic development director, who has already briefed councilmembers about the project at a meeting of the Community Economic Revitalization Committee. Sunde is excited about the project and sees it as a win for everyone.

To see how they can all partner together, Johnston is also looking forward to meeting with the West Olympia Business Association in a few weeks and local service clubs like Rotary and Kiwanis. 

To raise more money for the project, sponsorship opportunities will be available for extra public amenities such as benches and trail markers.

“There’s a lot of potential to expand this idea,” said Johnston, who says he expects to speak to a council subcommittee in late April. He hopes to begin breaking ground soon, while the weather is favorable.

Above: Overall Capital Mall site improvements are being planned. This intersection on Capital Mall property is one area that will be improved with a new pedestrian walkway made of stamped concrete, colored concrete, or a combination of concrete and tile or pavers.

Capital Mall Facts and Future

Indoor malls were in their prime in the 1960s and 1970s. Built in 1966, South Sound Mall in Lacey, the area now anchored by Sears, Target and Kohl’s near Pacific Avenue and Sleater Kinney Road, was the Northwest's first indoor mall.

Times have changed, and malls across the country struggle to survive. Online retail options and other factors have dramatically changed consumer shopping habits, leaving brick and mortar stores to creatively adapt, or fail. 

Built in 1978, Capital Mall is centered on Olympia’s westside, bordered by Cooper Point Road, Black Lake Boulevard, and Capital Mall Drive, near the interchange of U.S. Highway 101 and I-5.  

At just over 789,000 square feet, it’s currently comprised of 112 stores and just over 3,500 parking spaces.

The mall currently has 4,000-5,000 visitors on an average day, and is poised for more growth as it caters to an affluent shopper. With an expanding economy and workforce in Thurston County, the mall is well-positioned to capture its share of the growth.

The property has seen some renovations and expansions, particularly in 2002-03 with the addition of the 14 screen Century Theatre multiplex, and the additional parcels added in 2003 called the Promenade.

The mall was quietly bought by Starwood Capital Group from Westfield in November 2014. Starwood Capital Group, a subsidiary of Starwood Hotel and Resorts, focuses on community centers.

Johnston, who has lived in west Olympia since 2002, was hired by Westfield about six months before the sale to Starwood. The company did not rebrand itself as a Starwood property, instead preferring to keep a lower profile, and emphasize a local flavor.

Miss Moffett's Mystical Cupcakes, a local business famous for their appearance on the television show “Cupcake Wars,” is happy to be at the mall, and just signed a long term lease, said Johnston.

“Our mission is to identify with the local community. We didn’t want to rebrand as a Starwood property. The Westfield corporate brand was a turn on or a turn off, depending on what side of the argument you’re on, but we found an overwhelmingly positive response when we took the big ‘W’ signs down. We wanted to go back to what the mall used to be in the day when it was just called Capital Mall,” explained Johnston.

Anchored by JC Penney, Macy’s, Best Buy, REI, Total Wine & More, Old Navy, and Century Theatre, the space is 94 percent occupied, ranking second highest in occupancy for the Starwood chain of 29 community centers.

The mall is currently receiving a B minus grade by the International Council of Shopping Centers, a group that grades retail malls. The grade is based on the amount of sales per square foot.

While the mall’s sales are proprietary, Johnston says he needs to increase sales about $10 - $20 per square foot to improve the mall’s grade. The trail idea was one way to improve its grade, and Johnston is open to more ideas. 

To improve the mall’s bottom line, Johnston is looking forward to the opening of Dick’s Sporting Goods, currently under construction. Future projects include adding an exterior restaurant and the possible relocation and revitalization of the existing food court. He has plans to install LED lighting in the parking lots, which will save the mall about $50,000 in energy bills.

“This team thinks a lot about community. It’s good for Capital Mall to be recognized as part of the community rather than a corporate brand, you know what I’m saying? So it benefits us because we live in the community and it also benefits us, obviously, because it’s going to help the popularity and profitability of Capital Mall. It’s a win-win….” said Johnston.

Above: Standing on an underutilized greenbelt around the perimeter of the mall’s 65 acre property near Forever 21, REI, and Red Robin, Capital Mall general manager Kevin Johnston motions toward Yauger Park on Cooper Point Road. Johnson envisions a possible trail connection from the mall property to the park and a larger network of trails.