Lakewood Towne Center celebrates grand opening

Less than a year after demolition of the old Lakewood Mall began, large crowds turned out over the weekend for the official grand opening of the new Lakewood Towne Center.

Those in attendance enjoyed food, live music, clowns, juggling, crafts and train rides as part of the weekend’s festivities marking the opening of the revamped, open air mall.

The weekend-long celebration began with a noon ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday.

“Welcome to the new Lakewood Towne Center,” proclaimed Thomas Beeks, an asset manager with MBK Northwest, the developer responsible for transforming the Lakewood Mall into the Lakewood Towne Center.

Beeks said he hoped the new mall would become the “heart and soul” of the area, a place where people can “come to shop and have fun.”

“This is certainly a wonderful day for our community,” said Al Cohen, deputy superintendent of the Clover Park School District.

Caring for Kids, a nonprofit organization, was accepting donations for its efforts to fill a school bus from the Clover Park School District with school supplies, food and clothing for area children in need.

“I’d like to congratulate and thank Lakewood citizens for taking care of each other,” Cohen said. “They’re (the children) counting on us to shop, shop and shop some more.”

Sarah Lee, president of the Lakewood Chamber of Commerce, congratulated the city and MBK Northwest “for a job well done.”

She added: “I look forward to a number of years of success and shopping.”

City officials, the developer and area merchants all have high hopes for the Lakewood Towne Center.

For most of its 13-year history, the enclosed retail shopping area that was the Lakewood Mall underperformed to say the least, with high vacancy rates and a low volume of foot traffic.

MBK Northwest, which specializes in buying and rehabilitating under-performing shopping centers, hopes the new mall will draw paying customers and improve the area’s economy.

Last summer, MBK Northwest purchased the property from Wells Fargo, with an eye toward transforming the Lakewood Mall into a slightly smaller mixed-use retail entertainment center.

Earlier MBK Northwest redevelopments in Washington state include SeaTac Village in Federal Way and the Parkland SuperCenter in Tukwila.

Demolition of major portions of the Lakewood Mall began in October 2001, in order to bring in Old Navy, G.I. Joe’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, Michaels and Ross Dress For Less as tenants.

Stores that were retained include Target, Barnes & Noble, Loews Cineplex Odeon, Safeway, Burlington Coat Factory Office Depot and 24 Hour Fitness.

MBK Northwest also redesigned the property’s traffic patterns to make the mall more accessible to motor vehicles.

The Lakewood Towne Center also includes Lakewood’s City Hall, completed in November 2001, and a 62,000-square -foot Safeway grocery store in place of the one demolished during renovation.

For all that’s been accomplished so far, this is just the first phase of construction.

Plans for the second phase, set to begin next spring, will focus on bringing in restaurants, entertainment businesses and more retailers.

One of the those retailers will be PETsMART, according to Beeks.

“New developments will be announced shortly,” he said.

Plans call for the Lakewood Towne Center to be trimmed-down from the Lakewood Mall’s 1.1 million square feet, to an 800,000-square-foot destination featuring a civic center, convenience center, an entertainment center and a major retail center.

The Lakewood Towne Center is to be completed in 2005.

To thunderous applause, Lakewood Mayor Bill Harrison joined Beeks, Cohen and Lee in cutting the ceremonial ribbon with a giant pair of scissors to officially open the Lakewood Towne Center.

The next day, another noon grand opening ceremony was held, featuring more city leaders, Lakewood Towne Center officials and MBK Northwest executives.

The highlight of the weekend’s events came later that Saturday afternoon, when members of the famed Flying Elvi skydiving team parachuted into a fenced off lot next to Safeway.

Following their successful landing, the Elvi (apparently that’s the plural form of the word “Elvis”) performed some of the King’s favorite hits for the audience.

The Lakewood Towne Center is located at 10509 Gravelly Lake Dr. in Lakewood.