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Prepping new space at Rimrock Mall

Bing Ellinghouse repairs concrete as construction continues on Rimrock Mall's new expo room on Thursday. The mall plans to have the space open and ready by the first of February. 

A year ago, the managers at Rimrock Mall held a holiday gala in the cavernous space once occupied by Herberger's before the retailer had moved across the mall. 

It was a swanky affair, said Daron Olson, the mall's marketing director. They had a DJ and set up a bar. They decorated the space with colored lights and brought in small tables and decorations. It all seemed to work really well, Olson said. 

"That clicked with us," he said. "We should do something with this space." 

It's a tough time to be in the mall business. Credit Suisse made a splash last summer when the lender released a report that said it expected 25 percent of U.S. malls to close by 2022. 

More and more shoppers are finding their way online and department stores, strapped for cash, are finding it more difficult to maintain acres of retail space at city malls. Last year, real-estate research firm Cushman and Wakefield produced a report that showed a 50 percent drop in mall shoppers from 2010 to 2013.

It's something officials at Rimrock Mall and the mall's owner, Starwood Retail Partners, are well aware of. And they have a plan to deal with it. 

The old Herberger's space, which has been vacant since 2015, is in the process of being remodeled into a 14,000-foot exposition space, designed for craft and trade shows, live events and a general purpose showroom. 

The space will be ready the first of February and mall officials are hopeful it will attract everything from car dealerships to tractor vendors to public events. 

Olson calls it "raw, open space" designed to be flexible. The ability to be flexible is the mall's strategy for weathering the retail storms gathering on the horizon.

In the future, Rimrock will have more entertainment and restaurant components and more open expo space like what's opening next month, Olson said.

He envisions "forward-facing concepts" — store fronts for shops and restaurants that can be accessed from the street. 

"That's the vision for the property," he said. 

Olson believes that in order for malls to succeed they'll need to shift from places that were only for buying things and into places where shoppers can do activities.  

That flexibility "is what it's designed for," he said. 

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Business Reporter

Business Reporter for the Billings Gazette.