With only one remaining tenant, Helena's Capital Hill Mall is expected to be demolished later this year.
After the building is gone, the nearly 13-acre lot could be filled with a variety of businesses such as restaurants, housing, office space, a bank or a hotel.
The nearly vacant mall was purchased by developer Dave Kimball in 2016. Earlier this year, Dick Anderson personally invested in half of the property. D&M Development, a separate company made up of Anderson and Mark Esponda, a vice president at Dick Anderson Construction, will lead the effort to demolish and rebuild the site.
Esponda, vice president of project development at Dick Anderson Construction, said they are applying for a demolition permit and hope to start in late 2018. The site could be ready to build on by spring 2019.
It’s unclear what types of businesses would fill the lot, but Kimball had trouble attracting larger retailers who were interested in Montana towns experiencing more growth. Kimball previously told the Independent Record that he had planned to invest up to $10 million in renovating the mall, but the potential tenants ultimately decided Helena wasn’t the right market.
Kimball also said he originally thought the location would make a good outlet mall, but chain stores weren’t interested in coming to the area.
“I think that (Kimball’s) initial plan was to reach out to some retailers like Kohl’s and Tractor Supply,” Esponda said.
But Esponda said having to set up shop in a mall building could have been unappealing for some of those tenants. He said he hopes having the freedom to build could encourage tenants to consider Helena.
Esponda said Anderson has been looking at the property for several years, but was hesitant to do anything that could affect the J.C. Penney store that leased part of the building. Now that J.C. Penney has closed, the pair are excited about the location and think people will have a new perspective of what could fit in the area once the building is demolished.
Cathy Burwell, president of the Helena Chamber of Commerce, said she thinks online shopping through Amazon has hurt big retailers. But Burwell said not everyone orders online and Helena has an aging population that would prefer to shop in person.
“It’s a prime spot in Helena,” she said. “It’s one of the first things you see when you come off the interstate.”
Burwell said she thinks Helena could use a few more good restaurants and hopes the developers will consider having two restaurants in the same building that could share a liquor license. The costly license, which goes for anywhere between $500,000 and $750,000 in Helena, would allow two restaurants to share the risk.
“People are looking for a little more variety too. That’s one thing that the younger generations are mentioning, like different ethnic foods,” she said. “And some of the chains are missing here, of course.”
Lucky Lil’s Casino, the only remaining business in the mall, will close ahead of demolition and is interested in continuing to have a space on the property.