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Topeka’s West Ridge Mall Reimagined: New Life

Jun 25, 2024 | Public | 0 comments

West Ridge Mall

Topeka, Kansas, mall getting new life through a mix of office space retail stores.

West Ridge Mall quickly became a hit after opening in 1988 in Topeka, Kansas. It couldn’t miss.

It occupied a prime location in the city’s retail corridor. It had nearly 1 million square feet of retail space, with five big-brand anchor tenants, and soon it was considered the premier shopping destination in the region. Its developer was Simon Property Group, known for quality malls across the country. Vanna White was on hand for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

West Ridge was a big deal — and then it wasn’t. Its gradual decline resembled that of many other enclosed shopping malls, which have been hurt by changing consumer preferences and a lack of innovation. It was sold at auction in 2021 to Kohan Retail Investment Group.

On retail’s wheel of fortune, the good times appeared to be over.

However, Cody Foster was paying attention and wanted a spin. Foster and his business partner, David Callanan, had been scouting for a new headquarters for their Topeka-based company, Advisors Excel, which helps independent financial professionals build their practices.

Foster had his eye on the old two-story Burlington Coat Factory at the mall. But he was concerned about the long-term prospects for the rest of West Ridge. The mall had less than 30 percent occupancy, and things were in such disrepair that only one of six escalators worked.

That was when he posed a bold question to Callanan: What about buying the whole mall?

Foster figured it would cost about half of what it would take Advisors Excel to build a new headquarters. Infrastructure and parking were already in place, and the company could house its employees at one location instead of two. The plan was unconventional, but it made sense. And it would spare the mall the wrecking ball.

The acquisition of West Ridge by Advisors Excel went through last September.

“I felt like it was a great place that could be reimagined,” Foster says of the mall. “We’re going to have 1,000 of our employees there every day. Many of them will be women in their mid-30s making good salaries. If there’s something that could attract people back, this would be it.”

Topekans are excited about the rescue effort, he says. A launch party in April, put on by the Greater Topeka Partnership, an economic development agency, went heavy on 1980s nostalgia, bringing in pop singer Tiffany and a replica of the DeLorean car from the “Back to the Future” movies.

Foster said the project’s next phase will involve the design of office space for Advisors Excel. In the meantime, he is busy recruiting new tenants that he hopes will include national and local retailers, restaurants, entertainment, healthcare services and an upscale supermarket (he’d like to have a Whole Foods Market or Trader Joe’s, he says). He recently attended a trade show in Las Vegas to do some pitching.

Who said West Ridge Mall was done? Perhaps most of Topeka did, but not Cody Foster and his company.

“We live here,” Foster says, “and this is more than a real-estate investment for us. We want it to be a source of community pride.”

By Doug Carroll, Contributing Writer

Doug Carroll is a freelance writer based in Chandler, Arizona. 

 

The post "Topeka's West Ridge Mall Reimagined: New Life" appeared first on Building Operating & Management

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