DRAPER — The purple sign off the interstate entices any red-blooded female driving down I-15: outlet malls.
Pull off the freeway for a closer look, though, and you'll find Draper's Factory Stores of America in an aging building with a quarter of the stores out of business and the rest close to it.
On a Friday night, less than two dozen cars sit in the mall's parking lot. Inside is an even sadder scene, where a handful of shoppers aimlessly wander under faded signs and store employees eye each passing potential customer with hopeful looks in their eyes.
It's here at Draper's northern gateway that the mall shows promise of a burgeoning entertainment center, with neighbors like Draper Peaks shopping area to the south, new housing to the east, St. Mark's hospital to the north and Cowabunga Bay water park to the west.
On Tuesday, the Draper City Council (acting as the Draper Redevelopment Agency) will make final approvals on a 39-acre project that covers the mall block between Factory Outlet Drive and 150 East. Tenants include America's Incredible Pizza Company, a 1950s-themed, 54,500-square-foot family fun center that is already under construction on the north end of the property. The council will also vote on a 12-screen Cinemark movie theater, the city's first. Restaurant and retail pads are also slated for the site.
As part of the project, the mall, also known as Vanity Fair Factory Outlet Mall and The Outlets @ Draper Peaks, are currently being remodeled on the interior and getting a new facade.
"It's got great visibility from the freeway, but it really doesn't have the vibrancy of a thriving mall at this point," said David Dobbins, Draper assistant city manager. "Even back when the economy was doing really well, there was just little, if any, interest in that property. We figured the only way to make it work was one project that incorporated everything. Taking the big approach, I think, will make the difference."
The city is helping the developer to revitalize the area using a community development area project or CDA, a type of redevelopment agency project that uses a portion of property tax from the school district, county and sewer district on that parcel of land for the next seven years. The money generated on the property would then be invested in the project, and the various taxing entities would receive it back in full at the end of the contract. Total cost of the project has yet to be determined.
The Canyons School District, Salt Lake County and South Valley Sewer District have all signed on to the proposal.
Dobbins envisions a vibrant entertainment area.
"On a Friday or Saturday night, when people say 'Let's go to dinner and a movie,' people typically go to the same place," he said. "So we're hoping, if they go to Draper to see a movie, they'll stay here to shop and eat."
The mall has switched ownership three times in the past seven years. Phoenix-based Marcus & Millichap now owns the property, while Provo-based PEG Development is building on it.
"We've owned the property for four years, and that was our original intent when we bought it, to redevelop the site," said Doug Fielding, mall owner and broker with Millichap.
Sitting next to empty stores with "out of business" signs taped to their windows, store owners in the outlet malls want the area to be redeveloped, some needing it to stay afloat.
"Most of the comments we get from customers is 'When is this mall going to close?' They wonder how stores here stay here, since it's kind of dead," said Rebecca Thatcher, manager of Jo Lene Girl's Dresses.
Jo Lene's has been open in the outlet mall for five years, still a relatively new store since many of the businesses have long-term leases. Thatcher loves the location and notes that new action in the area will increase the customer base, as last summer saw a rise in business after Cowabunga Bay opened.
"People seem to be more willing to come in to the mall if there's more people parked in the lot," Thatcher said. "Usually, it's a ghost town here. We have a lot to look forward to."