Fort Collins planning board OKs Foothills Mall plan

FORT COLLINS — The Fort Collins Planning and Zoning Board Thursday night unanimously approved plans for a massive, multimillion-dollar makeover of the aging Foothills Mall.

After nearly four hours of presentations, comment from community members and board discussion, all seven members of the board approved the plan, along with five modifications to city code.

Alberta Development Partners is looking to fill the mall with higher-end retailers, after it spends about $100 million redeveloping the mall, in time to open for the holiday season in 2014.

The most contentious modification was one that will allow Alberta to use full-colored digital signs to draw attention to the retailers inside the mall.

A city code passed in December 2011 specified that only digital signs with two colors would be allowed, but board members passed the modification 5-2 because of the uniqueness, size and scale of the project.

Residents spoke out both in favor of and in opposition to the plan.

Another big concern related to the 800-unit multi-family development that is planned at part of the redevelopment and the increased traffic that would result.

The residential development will account for about 20 percent of the overall increase in traffic in the area, according to Clif Poynter, of R.A. Smith National, the civil engineer working on the project.

The redevelopment will include more than 1,400 parking spaces for the commercial buildings and another 1,422 subterranean parking spaces for the multi-family structures.

Several residents of nearby neighborhoods expressed concerns about the size and density of the multi-family buildings, which will range in height between three and five stories.

Earlier versions of Alberta’s plans, none of which were formally submitted to the city, involved about half as many units of mulit-family. Alberta founder Don Provost said that the plans ultimately submitted boosted that number because of market need.

Cynthia Eichler, general manager of the Foothills Mall, spoke in favor of the project. Eichler was at the mall while it was owned by General Growth Properties, which owned the mall for several years and long talked about redeveloping it, though market conditions and a bankruptcy kept it from doing so.

Eichler spoke about the stream of questions from those around her inquiring about when something might be done about the dilapidated mall.

“Today is that day,” Eichler said.

David Silverstein of Bayer Properties, the Birmingham, Ala.-based company that developed Front Range Village beginning in 2006, was also present at the hearing, telling the board that he traveled 2,000 miles to have his voice heard.

Silverstein warned that the retail market in Fort Collins is too shallow to accommodate two large shopping centers, and said that his leasing agents are competing for many of the same tenants that Alberta has said it would like to put in the redeveloped mall.

The planning and zoning board’s job, though, is to consider land-use code. Economic implications are left up to other bodies, such as city council.

Beyond the mall, the developers also plan to expand the Youth Activity Center near the shopping center, and rename it the Foothills Activity Center. The city’s Parks and Recreation staff will develop programming at the center, Provost said.

Alberta will also look into the possibility of addressing a request for a shuttle service for older shoppers to and from the mall.

The project must now go before City Council for its approval, though an exact date is not yet known.

Right now, Alberta is in talks with Sears to purchase its building, which Provost has said is central to the mall’s redevelopment. If Alberta is not able to acquire Sears, it will be up to the city to decide whether to invoke eminent domain over the property.

In mid-January, City Manager Darin Atteberry said that the two parties would have 30 days to come to an agreement. After 30 days, the eminent domain decision would be up for consideration, Atteberry said.

Provost told the Business Report in January that if Alberta is not able to acquire the Sears property, the company will not invest in the mall and instead will lease out the existing property.

Molly Armbrister covers real estate, banking and health care for the Northern Colorado Business Report. She can be reached at 970-232-3139, marmbrister@ncbr.com or twitter.com/MArmbristerNCBR
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