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Take, for example, the second run "dollar theater" that has operated inside Valley Fair for years. When the giant state-of-the-art Larry Miller Megaplex, a complex that sold nearly a million tickets, opened right next door, most thought the old theater would wither and die.
But sales at the Cinemark second-run theater have actually increased dramatically.
"We thought it would die, but there is so much traffic coming in there [the Megaplex], people can’t get into the movie they want to because it is sold out, so they go to the dollar movie," said Manwaring. "It has helped their sales."
Not everyone is impressed though.
"It’s fallen," said Scott Session of West Valley about the mall. "It’s not how it used to be. There are more thrift shops now."
The huge and growing shopping complex is an important part of West Valley City, serving as its "downtown." City Hall, an apartment development and a new Embassy Suites hotel are located across the street. The West Valley TRAX line terminates near the mall as well. And city officials and mall owners worked hard with state and federal highway designers to bring an exit right off I-215 and into the mall’s west parking lot.
None of this happened by accident.
Brent Garlick, West Valley City’s redevelopment agency director, said things were difficult with the previous owners, a big national development company that was in the process of closing the mall when sales dropped in 2004 and 2005.
"In 2005, it was put up for sell and a local company, Satterfield Helm, had money to invest and approached us to see what our interest was in being their partner," said Garlick. "From day one, we worked together to try to turn the project around. A lot of people identify West Valley City with the mall, and it was in serious decline. It was not a positive image for the city to project."
So, West Valley City used a series of bonds paid for by tax increments coming from the development to help the private developers.
The first major coup was when the Redevelopment Agency talked Granite School District into moving Granger Elementary to a nearby 10-acre park. That site turned into the Costco, a major retailer that opened in 2007 and helped spur the mall’s comeback.
In 2008, another bond helped finance a fountain, plaza and outdoor stores and restaurants with more of an outdoors, Gateway shopping center feel. This occurred during a national recession. Then, just as things were looking up, Mervyn’s went bankrupt and closed one of Valley Fair’s three major anchors. Another incremental bond helped purchase the building and land, tear down the Mervyn’s and provide enough incentives for the $24 million Megaplex Theater complex to be built.
Garlick said that increased sales taxes from the developments will pay off those bonds in 10 years. The theaters have helped spur an increase in visits to the mall.
Coles, who managed the ZCMI Center for 15 years, is encouraged by what he is seeing at Valley Fair. He said Fashion Place in Murray is the state’s most successful mall and the new City Creek Center in downtown Salt Lake City one of the newest and most striking malls in the country. But he said Valley Fair competes favorably with other Wasatch Front malls such as South Towne, Layton Hills and Newgate.
"The retail tenant is usually the last to the party and the first to leave," said Coles. "When the party gets going, we sell all the tenants coming. When it is weak, the tenants fall out. Right now, the tenants are coming. Back in 2006, they were leaving. The momentum is stronger and stronger."
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