by CHRIS ROGERS
John Alexander’s first job was bagging groceries at the Winona Mall, back when Midtown Foods still had a store there. Last Friday, he bought the mall for approximately $5 million. It is among the largest Winona real estate transactions in recent years.
“I’m looking forward to reviving it as much as I can and making some changes, but keeping the original features of the mall in place,” Alexander said.
A Clear Lake, Iowa,-based firm owned the mall for years before closing the sale last week. Alexander said he stumbled onto a listing for the mall online. “I kind of just ended up being in the right place at the right time,” he said.
Alexander said the property appealed to him in part because of the high number of children and young families who come for KidSport gymnastics classes and the indoor playground, the Playground. “They just have a tremendous draw,” he said. An existing Winona thrift store plans to move to the mall, and Alexander hopes that will appeal to young families, too. In the past, some mall storefronts have sat empty and empty retail space in Winona is not unusual. Alexander, however, said he has other new tenants lined up to fill vacant spots at the mall. “We could be 100-percent occupied by April 1. We’re not far away right now,” he stated. “For some many years, it was in non-local ownership or non-local management. One of the things I did was — in the beginning discussions I was already starting to put my hand to the phone and knock on some doors and get some good local business owners there,” he continued. Alexander said he does not plan to make any changes to the existing tenants.
“This will be my first attempt at commercial leasing in a retail setting, so it’s a big move for me,” the local landlord and residential property dealer stated. Alexander said he had good mentors, however, in Winona Real Estate broker Tom Thompson and his father, Mike Alexander, the owner of Winona Property Management.
Thompson ran Midtown Foods’ former mall location and was familiar with the property and the former owner. “He helped answer questions on their end and my end and was a real integral part of this,” John Alexander said.