If you’re a local Twin Cities resident, more likely than not you’ve heard of the Asia Mall located in Eden Prairie. This mall experience is like no other in the area. From the first step into the mall you are welcomed with the buzzing energy from the Asian Mart grocery store and fresh, savory smells of the cuisine offered by one of the many Asian restaurants. If you have a sweet tooth, be sure to save room for the confections at Bober Tea and Mochi Dough. The fresh, Japanese inspired mochi donuts are soft, airy, and have a chewy texture, coming in flavors like Taro, Cookies & Cream, and Strawberry Matcha.
Now that you’re drooling as you plot your next trip to the Asia Mall, did you know that just a couple of years back this mall was actually a Gander Mountain, an outdoor recreation retail store. You’re probably wondering how the current Asia Mall concept was once a stomping ground for outdoor enthusiasts. It’s all brought together through a process called Adaptive Reuse or in layman’s terms, the reuse of a building other than what it was originally designed for.
Our agent and Vice President at Caspian Group, Marshall Nguyen, was closely involved with the development of Asia Mall and bringing the east Asian concept to life. We had the opportunity to sit down with Marshall and ask him a few questions about the evolution of the Asia Mall:
When did you first begin the planning of the new mall?
Marshall: The planning began in 2018 when we were looking for the property. The concept was already there, we just needed a building to bring it to life. We found the building now home to the Asia Mall in early 2020 and closed on the mall in early 2021.
What was your role in the development of Asia Mall? How did this all begin?
The investors for Asia Mall connected with me through a referral and gave me the opportunity to represent Asia Mall as the main commercial real estate broker. I continue to work closely with them as their main advisor.
Why an Asian mall versus other concepts?
We have a large Asian community in Minnesota, but we are missing a destination that represents and celebrates the variety of Asian cultures. Asia Mall is that place and provides others in the community the opportunity to experience the beautiful and delicious cuisines of the cultures as well. There are similar concepts offered on a smaller scale. For example Hmong Village in St. Paul and the Somali Mall, but now we have a larger scale offering in Eden Prairie to continue to highlight the exquisite Asian culture.
Why did you pursue an adaptive reuse project instead of ‘simply’ filling the current space with another retail tenant?
My goal was to preserve the existing building and bring in a variety of concepts. There are so many big box stores out there struggling. Instead of filling with another single tenant or demolishing the building and redeveloping from scratch, we saw an opportunity to adapt the current building and reuse it for the Asian Mall. There were a few other buildings we were considering in the neighboring cities, but we came across a handful of rezoning challenges and awaiting lengthy time line approvals. In the end, the current location was the best fit.
Can you explain what Adaptive Reuse means for those who are unfamiliar with the term?
It’s using an existing building for a different use. You are keeping the infrastructure and sometimes you may add on to it. In this case we used the skeleton and built out 22 spaces and one large space for the grocery store.
Was this the first adaptive reuse project that you were involved in?
Yes, and the biggest takeaway from this is to have a strategic plan, knowing what needs to be accomplished, and how to get it approved. Also, having a close relationship with the city. At the end of the day, you need the city’s approval to move forward.
What challenges did you encounter in this adaptive reuse project?
The timing of this project during COVID led to construction and supply chain issues that were out of our control. At times we were waiting nine months for materials to arrive. There were different phases of the construction that needed to be completed before moving on to the next phase. If we didn’t have the materials to do so, we were stuck and stretching out the timeline to completion.
How did you overcome those challenges?
I quickly learned that we need to choose our battles wisely and let go of what’s not in our control. There is big risk, but also big rewards in large scale projects like the Asia Mall. I have learned how to analyze deals and to understand if it’s worth the squeeze. For me, taking care of my community comes first and this was a project investment for the community.
What did you learn from this experience and how has that impacted you, professionally and personally?
This experience has taught me to be more tenacious. Time is never on your side. I also learned more about understanding the tenant mix and why malls do certain things and select certain retailers. I learned the value of having knowledgeable, strategic business partners. This was a new experience for our team and we leaned heavily on the GC and architect to ensure that everything was built out right. Most importantly, I continue to value the support of the community of strong leaders including, but not limited to: the Hmong Chamber of Commerce, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, bankers, various nonprofits, and the gracious tenants for ideas.
We know all of the culinary options at the Asia Mall are superb. Is there a menu item or two that you recommend we check out?
It’s difficult to pick one as I’m a big fan of all the restaurants and businesses at Asia Mall. I’ll name a few that come to mind, but really, everything is worth trying! The Korean corn dog from Cruncheese is amazing! It’s a great appetizer to start with as you work your way through the many other delicious culinary offerings. Any meal at Home Taste or Pho Mai and for dessert, grab a mochi donut at Mochi Dough or snow slushie at Snow Bing. Then go grocery shopping and if you have time, get your hair cut!
Any other additional thoughts you’d like to share?
I have developed close bonds with the tenants and I found that this experience has been very relational based versus transactional based. You build a bond with the people, the building, and the experience. We appreciate everyone’s patience and support. The transition from soft opening to grand opening will be early 2023. The hours will be the same, learning what needs to be added, what systems need to be instilled, and finding more employees.
The Asia Mall is open to the public to visit during its soft opening holiday hours from 10:00AM – 8:00PM. Follow their Instagram page for the latest information.