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New owners of Bemidji's Paul Bunyan Mall seek occupants, plan family friendly center

Alan Retkinski, president of Paul Bunyan Mall’s new management firm, Lexington Realty International, was introduced to the Bemidji community Monday. He is pictured cutting the ribbon at the mall, marking its new ownership. From left are Susan Goudge, Paul Bunyan Mall manager; Retkinski; Rita Albrecht, Bemidji mayor; Janice Dagen, Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce ambassador; and Benita Dingman, Chamber ambassador. Bethany Wesley | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – Alan Retkinski envisions Paul Bunyan Mall as a place for families.

Retkinski, president of Lexington Realty International, the mall’s new management firm, was introduced to the Bemidji community Monday from the center court of the mall.

“I’m tickled to death that we have new ownership,” said John Chattin, the Bemidji city manager. “I think new owners, new blood, new ideas … that’s great news for us.”

Lexington Realty became Paul Bunyan Mall’s new management firm after DDR Corp. sold the mall on Dec. 31 to Gabriel Jeidel, owner of New York-based G.J. Realty.

Retkinski said a range of tenants have since expressed interest in retail space in Paul Bunyan Mall.

“We have the motivation and I have the enthusiasm to make it happen,” said Retkinski, declining to name interested tenants. “Let the proof of our past success be an indication.”

Within nine months of managing the Westgate Mall in Brainerd/Baxter, Lexington Realty took that property from a 65 percent occupancy rate to 95 percent, Retkinski said. In Alexandria, it took Viking Plaza from a 65 percent occupancy rate to 100 percent occupancy within two years.

Paul Bunyan Mall, Retkinski said, currently has a 67 percent occupancy rate, due mostly to the vacancy left by Kmart when it exited the mall last fall.

“We see how we can do it at this property as well,” Retkinski said.

Specifically, he said he wants to make Paul Bunyan Mall a family-friendly destination with an indoor play area for children, free WiFi service for shoppers and comfortable seating areas.

Retkinski, who previously invited the public to send ideas to him via email, said 80 people responded to his invitation with ideas, thoughts and concerns for the Paul Bunyan Mall, which were all evaluated or will be evaluated by management staff.