Updated Willmar Ten city hall/community center plan ranges from $18.2M to $20.7M to convert JCPenney


— Kelly TerWisscha of

TerWisscha Construction

and Dion Warne of

Home State Bank

at Monday's

City Council

meeting presented the Willmar Ten Investors' latest design concept for converting the former JCPenney building at the

Uptown Willmar

mall into a combined city hall and community center.

TerWisscha started the presentation by agreeing with a comment made by Councilor Tom Butterfield at a previous meeting, stating, "It could be a little awkward for us to be presenting to you prior to, and during, you having paid counsel working on another plan for the same location. So, it's awkward for us to be standing here before you presenting while someone else is working on the same design for the same property."

Bruce Schwartzman from

BKV Group

design and architecture firm was also present at the meeting and admitted it was a "little odd" for him to speak on the BVK Group's designs for the JCPenney building when he was asked if he would like to speak after TerWisscha and Warne were finished with their presentation.

However, he did agree with TerWisscha that the structural review of the building shows that it is structurally sound when Councilor Justin Ask asked if the city engineer's structural review was complete.

Schwartzman also noted that the BKV Group design concepts would show an 8,000-square-foot addition to the building to bring the total square footage to 60,000 square feet.

Councilor Ask asked about the next step in the process for the City Council, and if Willmar Ten will have an opportunity to make alterations to its proposal and make another presentation, given the fact that BKV Group is presenting something that adds square footage to the JCPenney site.

"It seems kind of odd to me that Willmar Ten's proposal, including the concept, comes out very public before BKV is able or before BKV comes in and does their proposal," Ask said. "They have the opportunity to see what someone else is doing, suggesting that we can do the same for Willmar Ten after receiving the other proposal."

City Administrator Leslie Valiant said the next step will be to have BKV Group present its design concept for the building, as well as the council hearing the city engineer's structural analysis of the building at a June 12 City Council work session. Ask's question regarding whether or not Willmar Ten will be given an opportunity to make alterations and present again was not answered.

Councilor Audrey Nelsen questioned whether there was a need for the additional square footage, and also expressed the desire to visit the site to better understand how everything would fit together before making a decision.

Valiant explained that how much square footage is actually needed will not be known until a site is chosen, but the city does have its facility needs analysis that estimates the amount of space needed.

"These are all guesses right now. ... Mr. Schwartzman will be bringing information to you as to — because the question was, in order to do this one package deal, we have to have an understanding to the public — what is the cost of that land, what is the cost of the building?" she said. "We don't know that, so then we need to find those answers out, yet."

Having BKV Group present a design concept that adds the additional square feet will allow the council to compare the cost of a 60,000-square-foot brand-new building and a 60,000-square-foot renovated building, she said.

She noted that BKV Group will also be presenting a design concept for just 52,000 square feet at the JCPenney location so the council can discuss everything.

After its presentation about two months ago, Willmar Ten was given an additional 60 days to present a new site design plan, as well as pin down figures more reflective of today's construction costs since the Willmar Ten proposal was first heard in 2020 before the project was put on the back burner.

Willmar Ten Investors' new cost estimate to convert the former JCPenney into a combined city hall and community center is between $18.2 million and $20.7 million.

That cost includes purchasing the JCPenney building and about three to four acres of land surrounding the building; constructing a new roof on the building; installing a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system; building out the inside of the building for city offices and community center spaces along with wall and floor coverings and kitchen equipment; and repaving and improving the portion of the parking lot for the city hall and community center.

The only things not included in the cost estimate for Willmar Ten's design concept were furniture, technology and security.

"Part of the reason we don't have furniture in there is that you're probably better off getting your furniture rather than having us do that for you," Warne said, noting Willmar Ten was also unaware of what the city would need in terms of technology and security. "We have not had the opportunity to sit down with city staff to find out exactly what was needed on the inside of the building."

TerWisscha explained that previous design concepts presented by Willmar Ten in 2020 and again two months ago were not as architecturally pleasing as the ones being presented at Monday's meeting in large part because "we were under the impression that the city couldn't afford to do a lot at that time" and Willmar Ten was being as conservative and fiscally responsible as possible for the city.

He noted that it now appears things have changed, considering the design concepts being presented by BKV Group. Due to that, Willmar Ten decided to revisit the project through a different lens, and the design concept is significantly different from what was previously presented in 2020 and again about two months ago.

"I'll admit to you, our plan from two and a half years ago basically looked like JCPenney, but maybe a nicer door on the front," Warne said. "TerWisscha Construction and Kelly's architects at his firm spent over a day just brainstorming and throwing stuff up on the wall and this is what we came up with."

The design concept includes a lot of circular areas to buffer the "box" look of the JCPenney building, "softening the design" with different angles and circular motions, TerWisscha said. Windows for natural lighting will be cut into the precast concrete panels on the outside of the JCPenney building.

A focal entry point for the city hall and community center would be a curved entry sign that can be prominently seen from the intersection of Fifth Street and 19th Avenue Southeast.

There are circular drives leading to the community center and city hall entrances, with circular overhangs at the entrances to protect people entering and exiting vehicles from the weather.

A large portion of the presentation by Willmar Ten focused on the parking lot and improvements that will be made if the City Council approves the JCPenney location for the combined city hall and community center — a topic that has received significant feedback from the community.

Not only will the city hall and community center have a new parking surface with a large community garden, rain gardens, trees and other green space, but mall owner RockStep Capital and Kandiyohi County Soil and Water Conservation District are investing in a $52,000 engineering study to improve a large portion of the remainder of the Uptown Willmar parking lot to help improve groundwater quality from stormwater runoff, according to TerWisscha and Warne.

"Margaret Johnson (district manager of the Kandiyohi County Soil and Water Conservation District) is very excited about this project. She says that it would have a huge impact for impaired waterways that are downstream from Grass Lake," TerWisscha said.

Andy Weiner, owner of RockStep Capital, has pledged $500,000 of any funds he receives for the sale of the JCPenney building to the city to be used for $2 million of improvements to the parking lot that would include the addition of rain gardens, trees and green space. The remaining $1.5 million would be funded through grants applied for by the Kandiyohi County Soil and Water Conservation District.