The cavernous Cottonwood Mall took a leap toward becoming a bustling European-style village Tuesday, as Salt Lake County and the Granite School District pledged more than $70 million combined to help revitalize the vacant mall.
The Granite Board of Education pledged nearly $53 million in deferred tax revenues to support the project in a vote cast before about 200 residents Tuesday night. Earlier, Salt Lake County leaders pledged $19.5 million in such revenues to the revitalization.
Holladay city leaders want to use a $96 million redevelopment agency bond to transform the former mall into a European-style village, complete with shops and housing.
The actions virtually guarantee the six "yes" votes needed on the eight-member taxing entity committee, which will seal or reject the deal Friday. Two votes each come from the county and district; the other two are from Holladay city, the biggest proponent of the Cottonwood Mall RDA. One vote is reserved for the State Office of Education; another is for affected special service districts.
"This is, for our city, the most critical decision that we've ever faced," Holladay Mayor Dennis Webb said.
If approved, seven taxing entities, including Salt Lake County and the Granite School District, would give up for 20 years most of the property taxes the new development would generate, to pay for the development.
Holladay would contribute $14 million in deferred property tax toward the project, near 4800 S. Highland Drive. In addition to the property tax deferral, Holladay leaders also pledged a portion of the sales tax dollars generated at the site in order to pay off the bond faster. That way, if the mall goes "gangbusters" and generates higher-than-anticipated sales tax revenue, the taxing entities wouldn't have to pay as much to pay off the bond, Salt Lake County fiscal analysts said.
"It gives us the ability to go out early in case the thing does really well," Salt Lake County Councilman Randy Horiuchi said.
The RDA doesn't solely rebuild Cottonwood Mall. Rather, it's atypically heavy on housing, which accounts for about one-fifth of the project.
The mall developer, General Growth Properties, insists the mixed-use project would create more tax revenue than a commercial development alone and add to the project's sustainability, said Spencer Angerbauer, a GGP spokesman. "It's responsible growth, and it's more responsible to the environment."
RDAs defer taxes on property tax revenue growth when a certain property is developed. Say a school district gets $100,000 a year in property tax revenues from a parcel now. If under an RDA a developer puts retail, offices and housing there, the property would become more valuable, but the district would take in the same $100,000 until the RDA expires. The rest of the would-be taxes go into the development.
In the Cottonwood Mall case, however, the school district would get 25 percent of the growth from the development as it moves ahead, a perk aimed to make the RDA more palatable.
The question in this case is: Would the property be developed without an RDA?
Holladay's mayor insists the project would not.
But Holladay City Councilman Barry Topham said the project area is prime development property and someone will come along who can develop the property without all the public subsidies. The Utah Taxpayers Association and a Cottonwood Mall neighbor, Thomas O. Breitling, agree.
"Every proponent has confessed that these are spooky deals, that they will not go without your subsidy," Breitling told the school board. "If it's such a good deal, why do they need your funds? ... (Potential recession) is no time for Granite School District to gamble $52 million in property tax funds."
School board member Terry Bawden wanted an independent study before agreeing to the project. He represented the board's only opposing vote in the matter.
But residents want this, Salt Lake pollster Dan Jones told the school board. A survey of 400 residents, conducted by a North Dakota firm hired by Dan Jones & Associates, found three-fourths want to redevelop the mall, and 63 percent favored giving up part of future property tax revenues rather than risk losing the project, Jones told the board.
Webb also told the board the city would host annual fundraisers for Granite District and committed $25,000 a year for the schoolchildren of Holladay, and to work with the developer to see if more could be done.
Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon said the mixed-use development is a "wonderful project" with an "award-winning developer that does things right." Corroon does have some reservations, however, and will vote to create the RDA only if the city provides affordable housing options.
Only if he and the other two representatives vote no might the project be derailed. The State Office of Education remained undecided Tuesday, but part of its voting criteria takes into account the school district's stand, state director of school finance and statistics Larry Newton said.
For the record, the state office has voted opposite of a school district.