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1/12/2003

Sears leaving Crossroads in Boulder

Tony Kindelspire
Daily Times-Call

BOULDER — It’s ironic that on a recent afternoon, what song should come over the loudspeakers at Crossroads Mall but Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days.”

“Glory days, they’ll pass you by; glory days, in the wink of a young girl’s eye ... ”

There was no mistaking the irony: In the case of Crossroads, that young girl winked long ago.

The recent announcement that Sears will be leaving — closing its doors on the 25th of this month — means that just one anchor will remain at the 40-year-old shopping hub: Foley’s. Several other smaller shops either have joined Sears or are preparing to.

Sears wouldn’t give any details about why it is closing its Crossroads store, a spokesperson saying only that it “was not performing up to expectations.” But can you blame them?

“No, because I saw this coming a long time ago,” said Nabil Karkamaz, an unsuccessful City Council candidate in the last election and the owner of Shish Kabob, one of the small handful of eateries remaining in the mall’s food court. “For the past few months, every time I go to Sears, I never see anybody in there.

“Many people think the mall is closed already — people say, ‘You’re still here? I heard the mall is still closed.’”

It’s not closed, but occupancy rates have plummeted in the past several years. The south end of the mall, which Montgomery Ward used to anchor, has been all but dark for years, and an imposing wire fence lines the southern perimeter of the property.

The former anchor in the middle of the mall, JC Penney, cleared out two years ago.

Now with Sears leaving, the north end is about to become a whole lot darker. Payless ShoeSource, SunCoast Motion Picture Co., KB Toys and FYE either have closed or will close soon.

While it may be barely breathing, it’s too soon to officially pronounce the mall dead. A statement earlier this week from Foley’s public relations manager, Priscilla Thorne Tinsley, read simply: “Although we are disappointed that Sears is closing, May (Department Store Co., Foley’s parent company) remains committed to serving the needs of our Boulder customers. We currently have no plans to close our Foley’s store at Crossroads, but look forward to the mall being redeveloped and reinvigorated as soon as possible.”

Others aren’t so sure. Roy Young, owner of Nature’s Own — on the north end, close to the Foley’s entrance — is hanging in there, for now.

“We have a lease through the spring, and we’re hoping to stay here,” said Young. “We’re just going to stay and see what happens. But I think the center’s viability is in question.”

Plans for the future

Last May, a plan was introduced to turn Crossroads into a mixed-use “urban village,” but that fell through when Los Angeles-based Macerich Corp., which owns the northern half of the mall property and and has a multi-decade lease on the southern half, could not come to an agreement with the city of Boulder on funding for the mixed-use plan.

“The city has indicated to Macerich that a public/private partnership, based on the details we discussed last summer, would not be possible,” said Brad Power, executive director of the Boulder Urban Renewal Authority.

Meanwhile, this summer, Macerich purchased Westcorp, the developers of Broomfield’s FlatIron Crossing and several malls in the Phoenix area, for $1.475 billion. Westcorp is now in the process of formulating a new plan for Crossroads, and the city of Boulder is resigned to forgetting any dreams of affordable housing anywhere on the site’s 68 acres.

“I think it’s very unlikely that there would be significant mixed-use in a plan that doesn’t involve any public money,” Power said. “We’re expecting a plan that will be dominated by, if not consisting solely of, retail use development, but we’ll wait and see.”

For its part, Westcorp is being tight-lipped about what kind of plan it’s working on — “We’re still in the process of talking to retailers and determining their interest in the Boulder area,” said Tracey Gotsis, vice president of marketing for Macerich Co. — but it does say it believes it will come back with something that will meet the city’s approval and, at the same time, not compete directly with its other property just up the road on U.S. Highway 36.

“Our feeling on that is that we’ve been able to do that successfully in the Phoenix market,” Gotsis said. While FlatIron and, now, Crossroads are Westcorp’s only shopping centers outside the Phoenix area, Gotsis said it owns seven regional centers and three specialty shopping centers in Arizona, all with their own niches.

“The key to making it successful is you have to make sure you have a site plan that fits the needs of the retailer,” said Gotsis.

Gotsis would not give specifics about what types of retailers Westcorp might be pursuing but said that at this point, it could even be somebody like Sears.

“Retailers can be lured back,” Gotsis said. “And I do think our prospect list will also include those that have left.”

As for whether a “big-box” retailer might be part of the redevelopment plans, “I wouldn’t even be able to comment on that right now,” she said.

Resuscitating a dinosaur

Part of the problem at Crossroads has always been the ownership issue. Foley’s and Sears’ — as is typical with anchors — own the land under their stores.

Macerich still has 57 years left on its lease on the south end of the mall, but three separate family trusts actually own the land — a fact that has frustrated redevelopment efforts for years.

But Gotsis said Westcorp has run into that problem before. She said that in order to redevelop the Scottsdale, Ariz., Fashion Square, the company had to “de-lease” the center, which was time-consuming but ultimately paid off.

But the story of Crossroads Mall is dominated by the news of retailers heading out, not moving in, and the mall’s sales tax revenues illustrate just how dire the situation is.

Back when it was a thriving mall in the mid-1990s, Crossroads produced 10 percent of the city’s annual sales and use tax revenue. The most recent figure is less than 2 percent.

In 2001, sales tax revenue generated by Crossroads Mall dropped 42 percent from the previous year. Through the end of October 2002, it had fallen another 36 percent.

Those alarming drop-offs helped fuel Karkamaz’s recent City Council bid.

“I’m running this time, too, because unfortunately those people (on City Council) got us where we are now,” said Karkamaz, who holds two separate master’s degrees in engineering. “By fixing this mall, you create opportunities. They can see just to their nose — they cannot see far away.

“Unfortunately, they drive businesses out of town, they drive families out of town, they drive (the) workforce out of town.

“The ... saddest thing in the world is to see this dead elephant in the middle of the city.”

Gotsis, meanwhile, is contending that Westcorp will come back to the city of Boulder with its redevelopment plan “within the next 90 days.”

“We’ll present the plan and simultaneously work to get interest from retailers,” she said. “We really hope to have something preliminarily sketched out.”

BURA’s Power said that at this point, the city is just waiting to see what Westcorp comes up with. “It’s up to them to put together a plan that’s feasible. We’ve pledged to work with them.”

As for Young — who owns five Nature’s Own stores around the state, including the one in Crossroads — he’s hoping the “50 percent off everything” sale he’s running now will be enough to draw people into his store.

“Our other stores aren’t affected by this, but the foot traffic has dwindled so much,” said Young, whose store, ironically, sells plenty of dinosaur-related materials. “The ownership issues alone are enough to drive you nuts.”

Young has his own ideas about what should happen with Crossroads: He would like to see the University of Colorado scrap its plans for a south campus, and do something on the south end of the mall instead — classrooms, housing, etc. So far, he said, no one seems particularly interested in what he thinks.

Told of Westcorp’s plans, Young was unable to muster much optimism.

“I’ve been here for three, three and a half years, and that’s about the sixth or eighth plan,” said the 25-year Boulder resident. “That would be great if that were true.

“Having said all that, if they do close the mall, it would be a lovely place for urban paintball.”