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Paul Bunyan Mall renovation to be completed this summer

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The Paul Bunyan Mall will put on a new look this summer.

Beginning May 2, renovations started on the 29-year-old shopping center. On Wednesday, John Kokinchak, senior vice president of property management for mall owners Developers Diversified Realty, held a press conference to unveil the new Paul Bunyan Mall logo, the interior improvements and the exterior facelift.

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The $1 million investment will include soft seating areas, carpet, planters with seasonal changes of plantings, a new color scheme and enhanced lighting.

"We want to invite extended stays in the shopping center," Kokinchak said.

Outside, a new electronic pylon sign will announce community and mall events. In addition, there will be remodeled entries and painting.

In November 1977, Developers Diversified Realty opened Kmart, with the rest of the mall complete in July 1988.

"In this industry, it is a rare occasion for a developer to hold real estate for that length of time," said Kokinchak.

"That was probably my first big project when I was city planning director," said Larry Young, executive director of the Joint Economic Development Commission. "At that time, that was totally forest out there."

He said the mall concept was controversial, especially among the downtown merchants. Those concerns led to the redevelopment of the downtown with benches and trees. Downtown has evolved since then into a specialty sales area and the Paul Bunyan Mall has extended Bemidji's reach as a regional retail center, Young said.

He added that cities have to evolve or they lose their economic base.

Kokinchak said he visited the Paul Bunyan Mall when he started work for Developers Diversified Realty about two years ago. He said he recognized that the mall's 30th anniversary was looming, so the company decided renovation was due.

"In appreciation of that milestone, it became important and evident that we reinvest ... and provide a product the community would be proud of," he said.

The completion is tentatively set for an Aug. 10 rededication.

City Councilor Jerry Downs, standing in for Mayor Richard Lehmann, said he remembers how excited people were when the mall opened in 1977. He said as the only indoor mall in a 100-mile radius, it draws shoppers from all over the area. The mall also provides several hundred jobs.

Lori Paris, executive director of the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce and former Paul Bunyan Mall manager, said the renovations demonstrate the prosperity of Developers Diversified Realty, as well as the prosperity of the Bemidji community.

"Developers Diversified Realty has always kept a good mix of tenants," she said, noting that there are departments stores, specialty outlets and local merchants.

Kokinchak said there are three vacancies at the mall, a 96 percent occupancy rate.

"It's our hope with this renovation, it will spark new interest in the retail world," he said.

He also expressed appreciation to Servet Senturk, outgoing mall manager, who will take a position next week at a new Developers Diversified Realty project in Miami, Fla. Senturk and Paris unveiled the Chadhat & Associates of Chicago architects' drawings.

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