Jul 282009
Authors: Ian Bezek

Colorado is known for its ghost towns; it is fascinating to see abandoned yet pristinely preserved mining communities.

Oddly enough, however, we’ve developed our very own ghost town right here in Fort Collins. While the Foothills Mall has not been entirely abandoned, it is shockingly empty.

Other than a few teenage hooligans and a smattering of security guards, the place was empty during my recent visit. Far from the normal hustle and bustle of malls, at Foothills I could hear a pin drop.

What brought about the startling decline of our once-proud mall? As I was researching, I stumbled across the bluntly-named Deadmalls.com which shed light on the history of Foothills.

Established in 1973, Foothills soon dominated the Northern Colorado region, attracting shoppers from as far away as Wyoming and Western Nebraska. Foothills drove Fort Collins’ other mall out of business and was far cooler than competitors in Greeley and Cheyenne.

The Web site states that as Fort Collins grew, the mall began to decline. Retailers moved off of College Avenue to other areas of the city and as College Avenue grew congested, it became a hassle to shop at Foothills.

Then in the early part of this decade, two body blows hit the mall. First was the creation of the Promenades at Centerra, which diverted many of Northern Colorado’s shoppers away from Fort Collins. While Fort Collins residents still went to Foothills, people in Greeley and Loveland no longer were willing to make the drive to our older and less glitzy mall.

The knockout punch soon followed. Mervyn’s fell into bankruptcy and closed its store, and then J.C. Penney vacated it location as well.

This left Foothills, which, designed as a rectangle, needs four anchor stores, with only two. The corridor between Mervyn’s and J.C. Penney was soon vacated by other retailers as foot traffic declined.

As the economy turned sour, more and more retailers throughout the mall have departed, leaving only remnants of a once bustling community.

Things have gotten so bad, in fact, that the city has come up with a restoration plan for the mall area to avoid having the mall become an urban blight.

The city may have to act quickly as more stores continue to abandon the mall and the financial prospects for the two remaining anchor stores — Sears and Macy’s — are murky.

Complicating the situation further, the owner of the Foothills Mall, General Growth Properties, went bankrupt earlier this year, crushed by the weight of the debt it took on to finance the dozens of malls it owns across the country.

With its owner in financial ruin, it is highly unlikely that Foothills Mall will receive needed renovations to keep the place modern, competitive and desirable in the face of rising competition.

It is unclear whether the mall will be converted into a smaller shopping area, renovated or perhaps even closed entirely, following the path taken by several dead malls including the SouthGlenn Mall of Littleton, which was closed and then demolished in 2006.

If the failure of the mall leads to businesses moving into the Mason Street Corridor business development area that the city is planning, perhaps Fort Collins will benefit from the fall of Foothills.

Our mall is not alone; however, it is merely one of dozens of malls that have fallen into terminal decline. As the economy worsens, more mall operators go belly-up, retailers close stores and consumers –/having maxed out their credit cards and having lost their jobs –/spend less.

If Americans aren’t shopping enough to keep their malls open, one must ask how healthy the economy really is. While Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and President Obama keep saying things are starting to look up, we must remember that in 1929, after the stock market crashed, President Hoover assured the country that the economy was “fundamentally sound” just as we went headfirst into a depression.

It’s an ominous sign when Fort Collins, with more than 100,000 people, sees its sole mall turn into a ghost town. If America, a nation obsessed with brazen materialism, continues to see its houses of worship — the malls — further decline, the economy simply won’t yet recover.

Editorials Editor Ian Bezek is a senior economics major. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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