Thunderbird Mall in Virginia will be 'de-malled'

EVELETH -- The abandoned Kmart store will come down, new tenants are set to move in, and the Thunderbird Mall in Virginia will be "de-malled'' in the near future so its stores and shops face out, not in. That was the report Monday by Andy Weiner,...


EVELETH - The abandoned Kmart store will come down, new tenants are set to move in, and the Thunderbird Mall in Virginia will be "de-malled'' in the near future so its stores and shops face out, not in.

That was the report Monday by Andy Weiner, president of RockStep Capital, the Houston-based firm that owns the 1971 vintage mall along U.S. Highway 53.

Weiner said the old mall has outlived its usefulness and needs to be updated to be relevant in the future. He was speaking to the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, which will throw in $350,000 to help demolish the former Kmart space.

Weiner said three regional and national tenants are committed to move into the new space that will be created where Kmart was, both retail and restaurants, but he said he couldn't name them yet.


He pledged RockStep will be investing "multimillions" of dollars into Phase 1 of the rehabilitation project in 2017, making way for the new tenants and about 50 new jobs.

Weiner said the property will be "de-malled'' in 2018 to make the stores visible and accessible from the outside. He said that project will involve "multimillions plus." Weiner also pledged a reworked and restyled parking area and freestanding national chain coffee shop.

"This type of (enclosed mall) architecture is basically not relevant any more," Weiner said.

Weiner said Rockstep specializes in small-town malls nationwide like the Thunderbird "that really need to be brought into the 21st century."

In addition to the empty Kmart, which was shuttered in April, the mall also has recently lost a gift shop and a jewelry store. The RockStep directory currently lists 13 stores vacant among about 36 potential storefronts at the Thunderbird Mall.

RockStep owns and operates 18 malls in nine states totaling more than 6 million square feet of retail. In addition to malls in Virginia and Willmar, Minn., the company has malls in Texas, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and Arizona. The company says it specializes in "shopping center investments in small town America."




Grand Rapids hospital adding oncology center

The IRRRB also heard from Grand Itasca Medical Center officials who are partnering with Fairview Medical Center to build a $4.1 million oncology center at the Grand Rapids Hospital.

Fairview has agreed to pay for $2.1 million of the project. Grand Itasca will add another $1.7 million, and the IRRRB approved a "letter of commitment" to add another $300,000 to the project.

The new facility will add five jobs, including a new oncologist, with the physician's part of the University of Minnesota medical center system.


Klapmeier-led One Aviation gets $1.5 million loan

The IRRRB approved a $1.5 million loan to ACC Manufacturing Inc. on Monday and another $293,000 grant to the Grand Rapids Economic Development Authority for a project that will bring 20 jobs to Grand Rapids making composite aircraft parts.

As the News Tribune first reported last week, ACC is a newly created subsidiary of One Aviation, which is headed by Alan Klapmeier, the co-founder and former head of Duluth-based Cirrus Aviation. Klapmeier left Cirrus in 2009.


One Aviation includes both the Eclipse jet division in New Mexico and Superior-based Kestrel, which plans on making a turboprop business jet.

The Grand Rapids facility initially will supply parts for the Eclipse jet, which already is certified to fly and is under production, but could expand to serve Kestrel if that project moves forward. Klapmeier again expressed his displeasure with Wisconsin economic development officials after their 2012 pledge to help his company build the Kestrel in Superior. Klapmeier says the state failed to follow through and that the company remains undecided on where to build the Kestrel plant and is instead focusing on the Eclipse jet.

State lawmakers who make up the IRRRB board pledged their support to Klapmeier should he decide to build the Kestrel plant on the Iron Range.

"I guarantee you the state of Minnesota will have an oar in the water to help you if you decided to build an aircraft assembly plant on the Iron Range," said state Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook.


Jobs projects approved

The board also approved development infrastructure projects totaling $2.498 million, including grants to:

  • Chisholm-Hibbing Airport Authority - $225,000 toward site work and aircraft apron development for a $2.6 million Midwest Aircraft Refinishing expansion.
  • City of Coleraine - $150,000 toward $348,000 in emergency safety lift upgrades and groomer replacement project at Mount Itasca Winter Sports Center.
  • Cook County-Grand Marais Economic Development Authority - $200,000 toward an $891,403 project to renovate and construct an addition on the Cook County Airport arrival/departure building.
  • Cook County-Grand Marais EDA - $100,000 for infrastructure and site work to support a $2.3 million seven single-family-unit housing development in Grand Marais.
  • Cook County-Grand Marais EDA - $300,000 toward an $844,585 project to renovate and reconstruct Canyon Golf Course at Superior National at Lutsen.
  • City of Eveleth - $150,000 toward infrastructure and construction of an entrance road at a new $3.7 million Lundgren's auto dealership.
  • Eveleth-Virginia Airport Authority - $52,000 to support a $570,000 hangar site taxi lane rehabilitation/reconstruction project.
  • City of Nashwauk - $170,000 toward redevelopment of the Latvala Lumber site for a $602,332 automobile-recycling facility.
  • Reif Arts Council - $250,000 to support the final phase of a $10.4 million expansion and upgrade of the Reif Center in Grand Rapids.
  • City of Tower - $350,000 toward water, sewer, roads and site work for a $6.7 million Tower Harbor Development project.
  • City of Two Harbors - $201,000 to support water main relocation for an $11.9 million project to allow construction of a proposed manufacturing business and expansion of an existing business.
John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at
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