By Tim Leeds
Work is underway to improve the Havre Holiday Village Mall and bring new businesses to the shopping center, Ocwen representative Andy Belew said yesterday.
Belew said Ocwen, which purchased the mall last September after several years of legal work to clear ownership questions, has been talking to several businesses, but said that these negotiations are in the early stages and could take time.
"We are talking to several anchor businesses which would use 10,000 to 125,000 square foot suites," Belew said. "The negotiations are in the early stages, but we have had several contacts with them."
He said that these negotiations are a very long-term process. It will be several months before any progress in the negotiations will be known, he said.
Ocwen is also talking to some smaller businesses about coming to the Holiday Village, Belew said. These businesses would need 3,000 to 6,000 square foot spaces at the shopping center. These businesses' decisions could come within 60 to 120 days, he said.
Kraig Erickson said their goal is to have 80 percent or better occupancy of the mall within two to three years. Belew said he hoped for better than 90 percent occupancy by that time. Erickson is a vice president at Westfield Properties Inc., the property management group retained by Ocwen.
Belew said work has already begun to attract new tenants to the property. The building has been re-roofed for the first time in 17 years, he said, and they have worked on protection of the exterior water sources. These were things which had to be done before winter, he said. More worked is also planned.
He said once the work is completed on Highway 2 in front of the mall, they would re-do the mall entrance into the parking lot. A new landscaping package is also planned for the mall exterior grounds, he said.
Interior work is also planned, Belew said. They plan to remodel and rework the common areas inside the mall, and also work with some tenants to improve the interior of their suites.
He said at a meeting with the Mall Merchants Association, the merchants were told that Ocwen wants to work with them to make any needed improvements on their suites.
Erickson said Ocwen is interested in bringing any businesses to the mall that will improve the property. He said businesses could be anything, including professional services or manufacturing. Ocwen has been very receptive to local businesses, he said.
Ocwen does have to be selective in choosing new tenants, Erickson said. He said new businesses have to be clustered or grouped, which will help draw other new tenants.
"There is a domino effect to some degree," he said. "If you bring in a strong regional clothing store, then a shoe store, it might bring in a music store, then others.
"We can be unconventional, too," he said. "We're not ruling out a hardware store or farm and ranch businesses. We want to make the mall a meeting place."
Plans are underway to turn the old Village Cinema location into a community center, Erickson said. He said that if the people of Havre needed a place to meet, they could use that facility.
Erickson said they want to be a positive influence. They want to improve the look of the mall and its grounds, to attract new tenants to the mall. All of this is to bring the mall back to where it was intended to be by this time, but it's going to take time, he said.
Erickson and Belew said they welcome comments and input from the community. Tiffany Korb, the mall manager, is their local contact with the area.
Belew said that while the mall was in receivership, it was impossible to make major improvements.
Since the receivership ended last September, Belew said Ocwen has purchased the land from the Brown Group and the county and has paid