Should Longmont’s taxpayers help bail out the ailing Twin Peaks Mall and, if so, then why not extend that favor to every business in town? This gnawing question of fairness weighs heavily on the minds of many locals, as city officials consider negotiating a public-private partnership deal with the mall owner.
Let’s face it: Shopping malls across America are losing their oomph, no matter their location, status or upgrading. The sagging economy and inflated gasoline prices played a part, but the word “anachronism” might better fit the declining shopping-mall era. Fickle shoppers, famous for flitting from mall to mall, are fleeing to the stand-alone big boxes and, ominously, to the matchless variety and convenience of the Internet where, of course, they don’t even have to pay sales taxes.
On April 16, 2009 the nation’s second largest mall owner, General Growth Properties Inc. of Chicago, filed for bankruptcy. Of the 200 malls GGP owns, four are in Colorado: Park Meadows in Lone Tree (south Denver), Foothills in Fort Collins, Southwest Plaza in Littleton, and Chapel Hills in north Colorado Springs. All of these four are considered upper-tier. Chapel Hills, one of the newer malls in Colorado Springs, lured shoppers from the Citadel Mall in east Colorado Springs, which earlier had plundered the Sears-anchored Southgate Mall on that city’s south side. City officials naturally don’t care who wins the dizzying mall game, so long as the tax revenues keep flowing.
Having lived in Colorado all my life and being a casual observer of shopping malls around the state, very few of the once-flourishing malls are left. Although not the oldest, Denver’s Cherry Creek is probably still the classiest. Louisville tried valiantly to get into the mall game in 1980 but developer Jacobs-Kahan of Chicago had no luck signing an anchor store and finally gave up.
Retail outlet stores (mini-malls) were popular for a while. Clusters sprouted up at places like Silverthorne and Castle Rock. Probably the most successful was at Loveland -- until the Centerra strip mall opened nearby.
Even Urban Renewal with its eminent domain power and tax increment financing “partnering” with local taxpayers could not save Englewood’s charming Cinderella City Mall, which opened in 1968 to compete with the nearby Villa Italia Mall, built in 1965. Despite the investment of millions of TIF tax dollars to renovate it mid-term, Cinderella City, an elaborate, covered complex, was demolished in 1999.
Villa Italia, despite a $120 million infusion of cash by the City of Lakewood in converting it to a “sustainable” mixed-use housing/stores complex, and after changing the mall’s name to Belmar, it still lost anchor stores Dillard’s and J.C. Penney and has never recovered. Shoppers complained that the “village feeling” of the mixed-use concept was confusing and made the mall hard to navigate.
Boulder’s Crossroads Mall, funded almost entirely with huge amounts of Urban Renewal TIF money--those who know will not reveal the total indebtedness--ran into trouble when the Westminster Mall just down the road (both opened in the early 1960s) began expanding. But of course, the Westminster Mall had diverted shoppers from the once-prosperous Northglenn Mall, helping shut it down. Then, with Broomfield’s bold, new Flatiron Mall arriving on the scene in 1999, the City of Westminster spent $7.5 million helping its mall owner renovate, but to little avail. Flatiron had lured shoppers away from both the Westminster Mall and the Crossroads Mall (refurbished in 1983; closed in 2004 and renamed TwentyNinth Street) and neither has recovered. All the Crossroads stores except Foley’s were demolished.
The onus is now on Flatiron. Its age and vulnerability are showing and stores are shuttering. The new Event Center nearby is struggling. Looking ahead, no doubt, Broomfield officials, in reconfiguring the city’s boundary into a county, made sure to secure, yes, a viable mall site at the junction of Colo. 7 and I-25, pretty far removed. But upscale anchor stores are scarcer than ever, and discount retailers, disdaining the stiff mall rent, find they can operate just as well on the periphery – in Longmont, that’s mostly just west across the street.
Mixed-use or not, the Longmont City Council has no business diverting tax revenue through TIF into this privately owned mall project -- “on the come” or for any other concocted reason, such as “infrastructure.” Obviously, if TIF availability is a deal killer, then that should raise some red flags.
“Blight” is a term that, unfortunately, reflects negatively on both the property-owner, for letting his holdings deteriorate and doing nothing about it, and the City Council and manager, for allowing it to continue.
The city should get down to business: shut off the TIF spigot, fire the high-priced consultants, tell the mall owner to present his financial capability, submit his plan for review, and whenever he is ready, let’s see the renovating start—without leaning on the taxpayers.