Remodeling the basement of a shopping mall sounds about as significant as wallpapering an outhouse. But for management of the downtown Crossroads Plaza, creating a new basement has been a monumental task with equally high expectations.

When the $6 million renovation of one of Utah's busiest shopping malls is completed in August, Crossroads' basement will take on the look of the '90s - described by developers in terms like open, light and inviting - and help the mall's lower level merchants reach their potential."We are turning a sow's ear into a silk purse," says Rob Snowden, regional manager for The Lehndorff Group, whose U.S. Investor Services company manages Crossroads and accompanying Key Bank Tower.

Of course, management doesn't refer to its silk purse

as "the basement." They call it "Richards Street Marketplace," named after the side street that ran through the block before Crossroads was constructed in 1980.

Lehndorff and plaza co-owners, the Okland/Foulger joint venture, expects the revitalized level to become a major thoroughfare for downtown foot traffic between South Temple and First South. And that just may happen, even if it's just the curious passing through to see what has transpired in the past six months.

Shoppers entering the Richards Street Level from South Temple will notice a new entrance, complete with escalator, that will be more accessible and welcoming than the previous enclosed entrance that looked like an emergency exit for employees only.

Under the center court atrium, people descending to the lower level will see a new fountain on the right, where cars and singing groups used to be showcased, and on the left, a new 830-seat food court.

At the south end of Richards Street, shoppers entering from First South will find new retail outlets where food vendors once were and an open view of the entire level.

In addition to taking down the walls and opening up the entire floor, white and light-shaded flooring has replaced the dark brown tile, new ceiling panels and lighting will cover most of the previously exposed pipes and heating ducts, and new restrooms have been built.

Replacing the former disorganized format of food outlets and seating spread throughout the basement level, the new food and eating area will group all vendors at center court in a semicircle layout surrounding the tables and seating. Two new cafes on either end of the food court semicircle will have separate seating areas, and nearby kiosks will house vendors of sandwiches, drinks, frozen yogurt and retail goods.

It's hard to argue that the renovation won't be an improvement over the dark, nook-and-cranny layout of the former Richard's Street level, where getting from the south entrance to the movie theatres was like moving through a maze.

"This was a floor that had great potential, but it was confusing, dark and not very inviting," Snowden said. "We have put in a 1990s operation of food court and retail."

Snowden explained that any shopping mall built or designed before 1980 has has had to undergo similar renovations - e.g. Trolley Square, Cottonwood Mall, Valley Fair Mall and Fashion Place - to stay competitive and attract customers.

Remodeling was one of Lehndorff's first priorities when it bought 50 percent interest in Crossroads three years ago (see accompanying story). But differences among ownership on whether to embark on a costly renovation, coupled with deciding on how the project would proceed, have made the revitalization of Richards Street a long, frustrating process.

Although the necessity of renovation appears obvious, not all partners agree. Management won't comment on the squabble, but, according to tenants and sources familiar with the matter, 25 percent partner Sid Foulger has for unknown reasons balked at chipping in his portion of financing the project.

Calls to Foulger's construction firm in Maryland were not returned.

Despite unsettled differences among owners, the project has slowly gone ahead without fanfare or publicity. Construction is being done by Okland Construction Co., whose principals own the remaining 25 percent of Crossroads in the joint venture with Foulger.

The delay in embarking on the renovation has frustrated tenants anxious to make changes to accommodate their new locations in the mall's basement. "Things needed to be done, but they couldn't while we anticipated moving at any time," said one tenant.

Retail tenants haven't had to close their doors for any great length of time to move to new locations, but business has suffered amid the confusion of construction. Meanwhile, some of the food vendors had to shut down to make room for the food court.

Snowden said adjustments in leases will make up for shut down time and he assures tenants that the inconvenience will pay off. "The short term loss in sales will be made up in the long run," he said.

Most tenants agree.

John Shaffer, owner of Molly's restaurant, says he is certain that relocating in the food court will improve business. "In our old location we were conveniently located, but it was difficult to describe how to find any place because of the way the whole floor was set up. Now you can just say go to the food court."



New tenants moving into the remodeeled Richard Street Marketplace



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