Foothill Village, for a quarter-century content to be a small neighborhood shopping center catering to residents living around Foothill Drive and 13th South, has joined the ranks of Utah's major malls this year as it nears completion of a $30 million expansion.
At a time when the lackluster Utah economy has seen many developers and contractors eking out a bleak existence building a house here, a small store there, developer Johansen-Thackeray & Co. has had the biggest game in town.Their shopping complex has tripled in size this year to 11 acres and by next May's grand opening will boast a total of 75 stores - 45 more than when the renovation started last year. Retail space will have grown from 100,000 square feet to more than 280,000 with a total of 1,000 parking stalls, 460 of them covered.
Flagship of the new Foothill Village is the recently opened ZCMI II, the department store chain's first store devoted exclusively to high fashion. Developers Armand D. Johansen and John R. Thackeray credit ZCMI's decision to come into the Village with giving them the clout they needed with both their construction lender (First Security Bank) and other retail tenants.
"The ZCMI launch did it for us," agreed Thackeray. "That jelled the financing in the summer of 1987."
Johansen and Thackeray bought Foothill Village in January 1985 from original owner/developer Doxey-Layton Realty Co. It was a good property, they reasoned, but was badly in need of renovation. Also, it needed to be bigger and have more parking.
No problem, they thought. Although the Village was landlocked on the north, east and west, there was room to expand to the south. The old Curtis School on 22nd East and small Genevieve Curtis Park on 23rd East - both then owned, but unneeded, by Mountain Bell - would give them the additional land they required.
Poet Robert Burns must have had Foothill Village in mind when he spoke about the best laid plans of mice and men often going awry. Rather than becoming heroes to local residents, panting for a spiffy new shopping center, the developers found themselves at the epicenter of a raging controversy.
Neighborhood groups, led by the Bonneville Community Council, fiercely opposed the redevelopment proj-ect, saying it would take away their neighborhood park, create traffic jams on Foothill Drive and generally threaten the quality of their neighborhood, particularly on 22nd East, the "back door" of the complex.
By July 1985 the battle had become so pitched that the Salt Lake City Council called a six-month moratorium on construction to allow both sides to cool off.
Johansen and Thackeray are understandably reluctant to discuss those difficult times, but they agree that their decision to donate an acre of land on 22nd East for a new park was the offering that brought peace and allowed them to proceed with construction.
"There are still some letters to the editor (from opponents of the project)," said Thackeray, "but I'd say 95 percent of the opposition stopped when we agreed to the park." Last year, after ZCMI decided to come in to the center, the developers asked Dan Jones & Associates to conduct a poll in the area to determine if the controversy had alienated many customers. They were relieved to learn that 95 percent said they would shop at Foothill Village at least as much as they had in the past.
Expanding Foothill Village was a considerable architectural challenge. The triangular-shaped wedge of land drops 55 feet in the block from Foothill to 22nd East and designers had to work around existing buildings, particularly the relatively new JB's restaurant which was awkwardly sited in relation to the other stores.
There have been complaints about the lack of easy access to the Village during construction, and many longtime customers are not thrilled with the new entrance on 23rd East, the steep, winding driveway to the parking area and the narrow drive-through for the new First Interstate Bank branch.
But, again, the architects did not have the luxury of working with a clean sheet of paper in designing the expanded Village, and a fair assessment likely would con-clude they have done an admirable job within those strictures. Most of the problems will be resolved with completion of construction and when patrons become familiar with the new layout.
Upon completion, the Village will have entries at the north end off of 22nd East, two entries from Foothill Dr. and one off of 23rd East.
The developers praised the patience of JB's and all their other tenants who have had to keep their businesses going in the midst of construction that severely restricted access.
The awkward intersection at the south end of the Village where 23rd East merges diagonally into Foothill Drive near the shopping center's south entrance has also caused problems and prompted rumors that traffic on 23rd East will soon be closed or restricted in some way. Not true, assures Johansen.
"We are spending $25,000 redoing that intersection. The Utah Department of Transportation and the Salt Lake Traffic Engineer got together and redesigned the intersection. They are putting another lane in and we are paying to have it done. There will be more room and better signaling."
So now the difficult times are drawing to a close. Access between the north and south sections of the center was recently opened and the temporarily isolated JB's parking lot will soon be opened to the rest of the Village.
The last major construction remaining is the Dan's supermarket on the site of the old Albertson's store, although the Dan's will be 21/2 times the size of the old store.
"This store will be the flagship of their (Dan's) chain," said Johansen. "We are putting parking under the store, and there will be two elevators coming up from the parking lot. Customers will be able to go through checkout and down the elevators to the underground parking. To my knowledge, it will be the only underground, elevator-fed grocery store in Utah. We saw it done in San Francisco, and it should work very well in our climate."
Thackeray said Foothill Village has an unusual market niche among shopping centers in that most of the stores are locally owned. "We didn't go out and get a lot of chains; we have strong local tenants who have been in business a long time.
"This uniqueness has allowed us to draw (customers) from a much larger radius. A lot of Park City people are coming in, and we are going after the tourist trade because we have something different to offer them."
But it's the local demographics that is allowing them to succeed in a flat economy, they believe. "We are surrounded by (residents with) the highest per capita income in Utah," said Johansen.
The developers have lost a couple of major tenants along the way - Castleton's, which went out of business, and Albertson's, which took over the former Safeway-Farmer Jack supermarket seven blocks to the south and decided it didn't need its Village store.
But it's all had a happy ending, they agree. The Dan's store will be a beauty, and the space formerly occupied by Castleton's is now, or soon will be, home for five new stores, including a greatly enlarged Village Sports Den (formerly in the razed south building), D. Grant Ltd., 5th Avenue Fashions, Bloomingsales and Gregory's Toys.
The latter will occupy 10,000 square feet on the lower level. Access will be by doorway for parents (or the faint of heart) and by slide for kids (of all ages.)
"Overall, with five stores instead of one, this space will be stronger than it was before," said Thackeray.
Johansen and Thackeray estimate it will take through next year to complete all of the construction details and finish leasing most of the space. They say they intend to retain ownership - they each own a third, the limited partner the other third - and management of the complex.
That means they won't be looking for any new proj-ects until 1990 when, they hope, the economy will be more robust. In any case, they will remain very careful, very conservative. Johansen-Thackeray & Co., they point out, is not exactly an empire. In addition to themselves, the "& Co." consists of a secretary and an on-site property manager.
"To be a successful developer today," said Thackeray, "you have to buy property right, build it right, lease it right and then manage it right. If you blow it on any of those, you will get nailed. With the economy in Utah the way it is, you are limited on the rents you can charge - rent is a function of sales."
Johansen-Thackeray have developed a small strip shopping center in Provo, some individual stores and a 600-unit apartment complex, but Foothill Village is by far their major accomplishment.
The two met while students at the Brigham Young University College of Law.