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Group strives to improve Oak Park Mall’s offerings

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Survey results:

What do you like best about Oak Park Mall?

Younkers — 47 percent.

Convenience and access — 35 percent.

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What would you like to see done differently?

Too many empty store fronts — 38 percent.

Unsightly parking lot — 30 percent.

Remodel the exterior — 10 percent.

What other comments would you like to make?

• We would like to see other stores.

• Keep the mall growing — you have been here 30 years, why let it die now?

• Make a bigger effort to attract new stores — seems like things have stayed the same for quite some time.

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• Current selection of stores is poor — take this seriously.

• The Christmas displays at the mall are great.

• Look at the rent — it appears to be too high.

• Expand mall hours.

• Have a carousel and other rides for kids.

By Roxana Orellana

rorellana@postbulletin.com

A group of Austin residents has made Oak Park Mall the focus of its economic development project.

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"I’d like to see 10 new stores at the mall, that’s the ideal," said Andy Thilges, a member of a Blandin Community Leadership Program group. "I think that’s a very aggressive idea. But even two or three stores would be a plus."

Thilges said the idea came up during the BCLP seminar earlier this year. He and three other members decided to take the idea and make it into an awareness project for potential economic development of the 30-year-old mall.

"I think we definitely succeeded in raising some interest in people at least looking at the mall and thinking of it in a different way, a more positive way," Thilges said.

The group began by doing a survey of 250 mall visitors. The survey asked what people liked most about the mall, what they would like to see changed and general ideas for improvement.

Thilges said the responses gave a lot of constructive insight about opportunities to further develop the mall.

The group decided to take it a little further by writing letters to stores that might have interest in relocating to Austin. Those included Waldenbooks, Starbucks and restaurants and home-improvement stores such as Lowe’s and Menards.

With Wal-Mart moving here, the landscape is going to change, and "we need to change with it," Thilges said.

"Anyone able to help the mall progress within the community is greatly appreciated," Jay Dunbar, Oak Park Mall manager, said. "I do appreciate their effort."

Dunbar said the survey provided information that management is aware of and pursuing. The responses provided fresh ideas that will help find tenants, he said.

The group has talked with mall management throughout the process. The three other group members are Ann Hokanson, Susan Hansen and George Thompson.

The group plans to look at suggestions from the survey that would not be costly, such as having more activities at the mall and painting some areas.

"It’s an ongoing project effort. Any kind of economic development doesn’t come easily," Thilges said. "It comes with perseverance, and we’re prepared to give it."

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