arches national park
Salt Lake City Stories »
« Utah Stories Front Page

Holladay's Holes Sucking The Life Out Of Local Retailers

updated March 18th, 2009

We told you about a development company's inability to finish their project after tearing down the historic Cottonwood Mall. The area is now dead and local merchants fear losing their businesses.

by Jonny Glines

cottonwood mall plans
The Cottonwood Mall site remains vacant while GGP attempts to secure

Months ago we told you about the Cottonwood Mall redevelopment project and how the economic decline has forced developments into a standstill(Read article here). We asked Holladay City a simple question: why would the city allow construction before the money to finish the project was secure?

"I can't give the answer to that," said Brandy King, assistant to Holladay City Manager. King referred Utah Stories to statements made in an article in the Holladay/Cottonwood Journal. The article reassured Holladay citizens that Chicago based redevelopment company General Growth Properties is still committed to the plans and that through TIF (tax increment funding), no tax dollars will be lost on the project. But Holladay City still avoids the real question of why construction, without secured funding, was allowed in the first place. Meanwhile, local merchants have to figure out how to keep their businesses alive in an area that has now turned into a ghost town.

Neil's Halibut n' Chips
Brad Summerhays of Neil's Halibut N' Chips.

Brad Summerhays remembers a time when Holladay was "the place to go." Summerhays, who owns the family-run business Neil's Halibut n' Chips, said he remembers coming to the Cottonwood Mall for the shopping, restaurants and the theaters. But as the mall aged and mixed-use malls gained popularity throughout America, it was time to upgrade the historic Cottonwood Mall. The new mixed-use mall promised to create a community of shopping, entertainment, business and housing. It was something everyone was excited about --in the beginning.

Holladay's "place to go" has now turned into the city's "area to avoid," with gapping holes, large dirt piles and clouds of dust, many customers are now avoiding what was once the city's main retail area. The huge holes have caused major chains to leave the area and now local retailers, who don't have the ability to relocate as easily as the big chains, are worried about their own survival. "Alberstson's shut down, then Blockbuster shut down and it was like, oh wow," said Summerhays. "The whole area now just looks dead."

The area looks dead because development is at a dead still. Since the economic slowdown, developments such as the Sugarhouse Granite Block and now the Cottonwood Mixed-Use Mall have been placed on hold. In November, General Growth Properties told Utah Stories:

"Worldwide, we have a financial credit crunch which has made it very difficult to move projects like this forward. As liquidity returns to the market, I think we will be able to take a fresh look at the Salt Lake City regional market and begin to reassess our plans."

The company says it hopes to only delay completion of the project until 2011, just one year later than it originally anticipated. However James Greham, GGP Senior Director of Public Affairs could not give a definite answer as to when the plans will be completed. The project in limbo doesn't just drive away customers; it also hurts land owners and the local merchants to whom they rent.

relax the back
Dave Monson of Relax the Back.

Dave Monson of Relax the Back leased his store's location because, at that time, it was located in the heart of the city's retail area. When the mall was torn down, the location lost value. But the owner of the land isn't being compensated for the decline in the land's value, so you can bet that Monson's rent isn't lowering either.

"The people who leased these properties leased it on the grade of the site," said Monson. "There's always a rating system on a piece of property that determines the amount you can charge as the lease rate. When we first leased this, with the mall there, this was an 'A-' site, and the rate was in line with that. The value has diminished significantly. We and the owners are both stuck between a rock and a hard spot because of all this."

The problem began with just the merchants who are located next to the Cottonwood Mall construction site, but now businesses located away from the old mall are in trouble too. The holes in Holladay seem to be spreading. On the corner of 2300 east and Holladay Blvd are large dirt mounds, construction equipment and pits. Holladay City says this is the beginning stages of redeveloping Holladay Blvd. Ground was broken to install lines that will supply power to the new Holladay Village. The city says this project won't have the same difficulties as the Cottonwood Mall project.

"We have the money for this one," said King. "This one is moving forward. We just chose a contractor for the roadway construction which is Harper Construction. The first thing they will do is tear down the Barbacoa and Little Caesars and begin redevelopment of Holladay Blvd in mid-April."

holladay construction
More Holladay construction at 2300 east and Holladay Blvd.

The merchants I spoke to seemed to be understanding, given today's tough economic times. But the one thing none of them could tolerate is the lack of communication they have received from the city and developers. All merchants felt they have been, "left in the dark."

"They were very verbal going into the project, and then they just shut right up. They haven't made any announcements. Nobody is talking. The city of Holladay should have some responsibility for finding out what is going on and tell the people," said Monson. "We have to find out everything on our own. GGP is making no real attempt to contact us. The city of Holladay is really hush, hush about it, not because they're being secretive, but because they don't have anything to talk about."

After the demolition of the Sugarhouse Granite Block and now the Cottonwood Mall, citizens are seeing a trend: when dilemmas occur in development projects, those whom are affected the most are ignored. The City of Holladay wants to change that. On Friday, March 20, Holladay City sent letters to local businesses to notify them of a series of seminars designed to help retailers grow their businesses.

"We want to help our businesses as much as we possibly can," said King. "We set up a series of seminars that will go on through March and April that will help them maintain and grow their businesses throughout this construction."

Many believe the seminars are a step in the right direction. Local merchants are the flowing blood of our communities. Business owners don't expect cities and developers to wave magic wands, but they say a little dialogue goes a long way.

"Let's make a retail day; let's get acquainted with Holladay's businesses. The city could do many positive things and talk about what's happening instead of leaving us in the dark and letting us die," said Monson.

Enter your e-mail address
to subscribe to Utah Stories:

Sugar House Now Sugar Hole? »
« Utah Stories Front Page

Support Utah Stories by visiting our local sponsors

Utah Stories Recommends