Old Cottonwood Mall site may be turned into 12-story residential towers, other housing and little retail space

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) After being dormant for nine years, the former Cottonwood Mall site is now being proposed for redevelopment into a largely residential complex, with housing ranging from 12-story apartment buildings to single family homes.

Nine years after the Cottonwood Mall was torn down, Holladay City is finally considering a formal request to develop the 56-acre site at the base of Mount Olympus.

Ivory Development and Woodbury Corp. are proposing far more housing and far less retail space than the concepts that have been informally discussed since Utah’s first mall was leveled in 2008. Holladay’s planning commission will hold a hearing on their plan at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Much of the housing would be concentrated in high rises, with Ivory Development’s proposal calling for structures 136 feet tall (the equivalent of 11 or 12 residential stories above first-floor commercial) on the northwest corner of Highland Drive and Murray-Holladay Road (4800 South).

Building heights would taper off as the development moves to the south and east, with a subdivision of detached single family homes flanking the perimeter adjacent to Memory and Arbor lanes.

“I’ve long advocated working with local developers who have a commitment to this area and this site,” said Holladay Mayor Rob Dahle. “We never felt like we had that before. We’re excited that we have that opportunity now to turn this from dirt into a productive area for the city and our residents.”

(Tribune file photo) The first mall built in Utah in 1962, the Cottonwood Mall thrived for 40 years before changing markets led to its demise. Torn down in 2008, the mall property has remained vacant since then. But Holladay City officials are now considering a plan to revitalize it with a development that is chiefly residential.

Ivory and Woodbury have an agreement to buy the property from Howard Hughes Corp., which took control of the mall property when it was split off from General Growth Properties, the mall-owning company that declared bankruptcy in 2009.

Hughes had hoped to build a Gateway-style, open-air mall centered around a Smith’s grocery store and a Larry H. Miller theater complex, supplemented with apartments and some single family homes.

“But Howard Hughes couldn’t get any traction with that whole concept,” Dahle said.

The property lay dormant, with weeds covering terrain beyond the parking lots for now-abandoned buildings that once housed a Macy’s department store and a TGI Friday’s restaurant.

The sale is contingent on Holladay City’s approval of the Ivory plan.

To help get public buy-in for the concept, Ivory President Chris Gamvroulas held an open house Wednesday to explain the concept to area businesses. A second session for area residents was set for Thursday evening at Creekside Place Shopping Center west of the old mall site.

“We want to educate people,” Gamvroulas said Thursday, adding he was pleased with the reception the plans received at the previous evening’s open house.

“There were certainly a lot of questions. People have concerns about height and density,” he said. “But a lot of the surrounding business owners were excited about enlivening the area and reactivating it. A lot of these businesses have struggled since the mall was torn down.”

Dahle said Holladay officials originally hoped the redeveloped Cottonwood Mall would be a lucrative retail complex, filling city coffers with sales tax revenue. But they learned over the past decade, he said, that “that world doesn’t exist any more. Howard Hughes didn’t get any takers. There’s no market for 500,000 square feet of commercial space. Brick and mortar is shrinking.

“What Ivory and Woodbury are saying is that if you want mixed use and retail, you need bodies to keep them in business,” the mayor said. “They believe that if we can get enough multi-family housing product in there, they’ll have enough population that they can put retail in that [succeeds].”

While early plans contemplated 600 housing units, Ivory’s plan now includes 1,035 to 1,255 units. That’s a density of 18 to 22 units per acre, covering 60 percent of the property. Another 12 percent of the land would be set aside as open space, largely along the Highland Drive frontage, while 10 percent would be commercial.

Dahle said the planning commission will hold a second public hearing on the proposal in December. The city council then will consider the matter further. Public interest already is increasing. “Our phones and emails are lighting up,” he added.

Hearings will be held at Holladay City Hall, 4580 S. 2300 East.