Woodsonia and Conestoga deal hinges on luring secret flagship store

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Managers of Omaha’s Conestoga Woodsonia mall are planning a major $150-200 million redevelopment of the Grand Island property.

At Wednesday’s Community Redevelopment Authority meeting, regional planner Chad Nabity told council members the project hinges on two things.

Woodsonia is seeking “deteriorated and substandard” status so the property can apply for tax increment financing, which is necessary for a project of this scale.

Additionally, the deal will only happen if Woodsonia is able to attract a major, but unnamed retailer as a flagship store for the site.

Mitch Hohlen, a Woodsonia partner, said such an anchor was wanted when he appeared before Grand Island City Council on September 13.

“At the moment the project is anchored by a new 150,000 square foot retailer,” he said. “I know no one knows who it is, but we think it’s an exciting opportunity for Grand Island.”

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At Wednesday’s ARC meeting, Nabity described the effort at such an early stage as “a house of cards.”

“We’re going to do everything we can to support this and make it work, but there are a number of critical things that need to happen, including the anchor that they’re offering actually saying, yes, we want to be there and we are part of it,” he said. “If these things don’t happen, it could fall apart.”

He added: “We have to do what we can do, and that is what we can do.”

On September 13, the city council approved the referral of a degraded and substandard study to the regional planning commission for the 78-acre site near Highway 281.

The request was made by Woodsonia, which manages the property owned by Namdar Realty Group of Great Neck, New York.

Woodsonia intends to “scale up” the mall, closer to 200,000 to 150,000 square feet, Hohlen said Sept. 13.

Plans for Conestoga include new interiors, exteriors and parking.

There would also be new developments, including a four-level multi-family unit on the north side of the property and more retail space.

To accommodate this, they would raze former Sears and Napoli dining spaces.

“We have demand for potentially 85,000 to 100,000 new retail businesses in the market and we are also in discussions with a few hotel groups,” he said.

The owners had already tried to bring the property before the RPC in 2018.

It was removed from the RPC agenda ahead of the meeting, Nabity explained, as the owners were unwilling to share their plans for the property at the time.

“We said, we’re not going to approve anything if we don’t have an idea of ​​what you want to do,” Nabity said.

With the burn study being directed to the RPC, Nabity expects a TIF application to come before the CRA in November.

“That’s how this project is evolving. Hopefully we will have everything approved, maybe not the contracts in place, but all the other approvals, by December 20,” he said.

The city council has also passed on an “extremely degraded study” for the area, which would extend the duration of the TIF to 20 years if approved.

The mall was built in 1972, well over the 40-year-old threshold for the designation, Nabity said.

The company that carried out the study, Marvin Planning Consultants, carried out a similar study for Lincoln, which adopted the status in 2020.

The same methodology was used for the Grand Island study, Nabity said.

“There are ways to make it work,” he said. “It may include commercial properties, but it is linked to Zone 12, which is across the street to the south and east, between 13th Street and Faidley.”

It requires three criteria: the property must be declared degraded and substandard; must have an unemployment rate that is twice the state average, based on census figures; and must have a poverty rate of 20% or more, based on census figures.

The property analysis identifies five areas of Grand Island that are degraded and substandard and meet these requirements.

With this status: the duration of the TIF is extended from 15 to 20 years; through January 1, 2026, any first-time home buyer who purchases a home in a severely run-down area is eligible for a $5,000 tax credit from the state of Nebraska; and anything declared extremely degraded is not counted against the 35% degradation threshold.

The Conestoga project cannot function without a 20-year-old TIF, Nabity said September 13.

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