George Gaukler and his partners in Straus Mall Property LLC are well on their way to turning the long-time downtown Valley City landmark back into a centerpiece of the business community.
Gaukler bought the mall in October of 2011 after it lost its last tenant.
By November of 2011 Gaukler had lined up the first new tenant, Professional Eye Care, and had begun expensive renovations.
Gaukler said Thursday “the spaces are rented to a lawyer and an architect, and the mall is starting to fill up.”
Today Gaukler is managing partner of a group of owners of Straus Mall Property LLC, and two new occupants have been lined up – RHRA Architects owned by Brian Durgin and the Fremstad Law Firm owned by Joel Fremstad, said Jim Knutson, vice president of Valley Realty. Gaukler is founder and president of Valley Realty.
Both businesses will be new to Valley City.
Knutson said Thursday the mall has additional office and retail space available, and leasing is being handled by Valley Realty.
Gaukler said handicapped accessible restrooms will be installed next week, and an elevator will soon be added.
Gaukler bought the mall from a Minnesota-based company that had to buy back the building from Barnes County after it fell behind $26,450 in unpaid property taxes for 2007 to 2009.
The owner bought the building back from Barnes County by pay ing the back tax bill.
In 2011 Gaukler said, “It was not an investment, but I decided the Straus Mall was a critical downtown corner for Valley City. I just have to come up with the right people” for partners. He now has.
Earlier this week the exterior of the mall building was being plastered by Randy Gardiner of Gardiner Plastering and Denell Halvorson.
Early estimates for the costs of needed renovations including an elevator, new restrooms and a new heating system were $250,000 to $300,000. Gaukler also had to install sprinklers and fire alarms in the building to meet safety and building codes before the first new tenant moved in.
RHRA Architects is a brand new Valley City business. Durgin said Thursday, “Our firm is based in Fargo, and we recently opened an office in Valley City. We’re kind of excited to explore the (need for) architecture in Valley City and can help the community in that regard.”
Durgin said his firm is working on the renovation work for the mall, including the exterior and installing the elevator.
The Fremstad Law Firm is also based in Fargo, and is now in the process of opening its first Valley City office in the mall, Fremstad said Thursday.
“We’re moving in as we speak. We signed the lease in July. Ultimately our goal for the next month or so is to have appointment hours, and later one or two days a week have staff there with regular hours one day a week,” Fremstad said.
Fremstad said his firm has “done a lot of work with George and we see the ability to increase the offerings in the community in a number of practice areas. In smaller towns you need lawyers covering a wide variety of things. I’ve been at big firms, and all of my lawyers have. We’re really trying to fit into the community.”
Fremstad said his firm’s main office consists of himself, two employed attorneys, and two private attorneys who share office space.