Alberta Development Partners LLC Reaches Major Milestone on $313M Foothills Mall Redevelopment
It had been on the municipal wish list for many years to revive a deteriorating shopping mall and surroundings in the central Midtown district of Fort Collins, Colorado.
Now, this holiday season, residents are celebrating major milestones in progress on the $313 million Foothills Mall redevelopment, one of the largest retail construction projects in North America. Alberta Development Partners LLC is the developer of the site, 77 acres in all, comprising a total of 620,000 square feet of total retail space (about 360,000 square feet enclosed, the rest detached), 402 rental apartments and numerous community improvements including a bicyclist/pedestrian underpass under College Avenue that can bring in mall visitors from the city's MAX Bus Rapid Transit system.
The amenities that are planned include a new and expanded community activity center, replacing the former one. A state-of-the-art multi-screen cinema recently opened. There will be open-air cafes and outdoor restaurants along with patios on the rooftops. There will be open spaces for public events with landscaping features including fountains that convert to skating ponds in the winter. In all, it should be the kind of inviting, multi-use space that will make the area again the kind of shopping, entertainment and cultural hub it had once been.
"Up-cycling" an existing retail area is important to municipalities like Fort Collins, which have a growth boundary and plan to grow "up, not out," adding more mixed use areas, as part of the national smart growth trend.
Updating for Multiple Communities
The original mall at the location opened in 1973 as the Foothills Fashion Mall, and attracted shoppers from northern Colorado, southeastern Wyoming, and southwestern Nebraska. The mall expanded in 1980s and 1990s, but nevertheless experienced declining sales and increasing vacancies, partly due to increased competition from new retail centers in northern Colorado. When the mall lost two major anchor stores, Mervyn's and JCPenney, revitalization of the mall became a top city priority.
In the city's 2005 Economic Action Plan, Foothills Mall was identified as the "single most important retail redevelopment initiative in the city", and by 2007 had approved an Urban Renewal Plan. That plan lapsed as the then owners of the mall did not initiate redevelopment due to the economic environment. After Walton Foothills Holdings IV, LLC purchased the mall in July 2012, Walton partnered with Alberta Development and negotiated a redevelopment plan with the Urban Renewal Area.
The redevelopment of Foothills Mall is being accomplished as a public-private partnership, with $53 million in public assistance made available through Colorado's Statute on Urban Renewal and Special Districts (Title 32). The public investment is based on identification of blight factors on the property and the determination that the assistance is necessary for the viability of the project. The costs covered include site-work, a portion of the parking structure, Foothills Activity Center, improvements to stormwater treatment facilities, traffic flow and safety within the site as well as a bicyclist/pedestrian underpass under College Avenue connecting mall visitors to MAX Bus Rapid Transit.
A Project with Special Challenges
Alberta Development, based in Greenwood Village, Colorado, was founded in 1992 specialized in retail and mixed-use development. The company undertakes projects throughout the western United States and recently added Maui Mall in Hawaii to its portfolio.
Bryan McFarland, Alberta Development's Principal - Development, said that the company has undertaken a number of other mall redevelopment projects in partnership with municipalities, such as the Sidewalks of Southglenn in Denver.
McFarland said the special challenges of the Foothills Mall project were working around an open retail area, and carrying out asbestos abatement on 12-foot high scaffolding in curtained-off areas. "We had to do a bit of a dance," McFarland said. He also noted the extensive landscaping challenges on the site, including transplanting of 40 to 50-foot mature trees, and diverting an irrigation ditch. On top of those challenges, heavy rains earlier in the year led to loss of a major portion of the available time.
In addition to economic and social benefits to the revitalization, the city has a number of environmental goals for the project.
The redevelopment agreement between the city and the mall owner, Alberta Development Partners, required recycling and reuse of all non-contaminated materials. Alberta invited Colorado State University's Institute for the Built Environment to observe and provide input on the recycling effort in collaboration with planners in the city's Environmental Services department.
They worked with local waste diversion companies to recycle, repurpose, or reclaim as much material as possible. In the agreement it was specified that all usable light fixtures were removed and reused, CMU structural walls were crushed and recycled, steel columns and bar joists were removed and made available for reuse or recycling. In addition, wood structured buildings were deconstructed and hauled to a wood recycling facility; concrete slab-on-grade, and foundations were crushed and recycled; and rebar material was separated from concrete and recycled.
The results are impressive. In 2014, the mall diverted 100 percent of concrete, asphalt, wood debris, and metals from the landfill, and more than 70 percent of all other materials. From January to August 2014, 26,502 tons of demolition waste was recycled rather than going to the landfill. That is roughly equal to the estimated waste generated daily by 12 million people.
Other sustainability features are built into the design of the mall, including a high percentage of natural light, low wattage, long-life LED downlights, water quality devices, electric car charging stations, and the tree and wetlands mitigation.
As retail tenants take up available new spaces, work is continuing on the south mall expansion. Construction of the residential units is expected to begin next year.
Meanwhile, at the grand holiday opening ceremony at the mall in November, people cheered at the tree lighting. Shoppers enjoyed the new look of the interior and some set cash registers ringing at new-to-the-market outlets like Nordstrom Rack and H&M. Other visitors headed for the new Cinemark Movie Bistro and XD, to enjoy the latest Hollywood blockbusters on a floor-to-ceiling wall-to-wall screen while seated in plush "luxury loungers." Meanwhile Santa Claus was there in the Grand Court for children of all ages, and who knows what wishes for new construction projects Fort Collins residents might have whispered in his ear.