Sears: An ill fit in developers’ mall plans

I can’t remember the last time I walked into a Sears. I’d say that’s true for a lot of Americans.

Sears, as most know, has seen better times. Its stores and reputation bedraggled by years of neglect, it is now part of a bygone era, a retailing relic whose glory days are long behind it.

Like its parent company, the future of the Sears in Fort Collins has been in question for some time and is now even less certain following the acquisition of the 37-year-old Foothills Mall by developers planning a major makeover.

Greenwood Village-based Alberta Development Partners would like to see Sears move out. Sears, one of the original anchors at the mall, isn’t going quietly.

The parties, it appears, cannot seem to find accord on a price. That, at least, is the going supposition, because neither is revealing much about their respective positions.

If they fail to strike a deal, the Fort Collins City Council may go the eminent domain route, a move that, as you might imagine, has its critics.

The critics are right — to a point.

Eminent domain is typically reserved for situations in which the public good is at stake. Think roads, hospitals and schools.

A mall obviously doesn’t fit on that list.

Yet wouldn’t a revitalized mall that helps create jobs and tax revenues help to advance the public good? The new owners want to pour $100 million into remaking the mall. That’s a lot of construction jobs. And once it’s rebuilt, the retailers that open their doors there will employ hundreds more.

Better still, a rehabbed mall could provide a catalyst to further redevelopment in Midtown Fort Collins, an area that lost much of its sheen years ago.

Sears, of course, has its rights. But employing eminent domain doesn’t mean the city would simply seize the building away. It would pay fair market value, or something close. And if Sears isn’t happy with the price it gets, it can take a tax write-off.

The Fort Collins City Council is scheduled to take up the question at its Jan. 15 meeting. That gives everyone plenty of time to think about what’s best for Sears, best for the mall and best for the city.

If you read our Molly Armbrister’s recent coverage on the developers’ plans, it’d be hard not to get excited about what’s in store.

The upshot of her reporting confirmed what the developers have asserted since they took control of the property: that they have a pretty good shot at attracting high-end retailers paying high-end rents.

As Molly found, with the economy recovering, some of the nation’s biggest retailers are, indeed, expanding again. At the same time, retail space is in short supply in the most popular shopping destinations in the region.

In short, there’s nothing far-fetched or overly ambitious about the developers’ plans to transform the Foothills Mall into a sparkling, high-end retail destination that draws shoppers from around the immediate region and beyond.

Yes, Sears is a landowner with certain rights. But Sears has failed to stay relevant as a retailer. It is in no way a destination for shoppers, unless perhaps everything else is closed.

As the council and others in our city government weigh how best to proceed, there’s one overarching point to keep in mind: they could let Sears stay put, but then the mall owners could decide to call the whole thing off.

Allen Greenberg is the editor of the Northern Colorado Business Report. He can be reached at 970-232-3142 or

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