In what seems like an exercise in absurdist theater, Lehi has just opened a new mall: The Outlets at Traverse Mountain. Apparently no one from that city has ever visited any other cities and consequently observed that malls are a colossally bad investment. Just last week in fact I mentioned that the best local example of a mall is in serious trouble.
In reality this is Salt Lake City’s mall bubble expanding outward; each successive developer or community thinks a new mall will be an economic savior. And it is, at least until another developer comes along and builds another, better mall.
In economic and development circles, this approach (usually as applied to housing) is often referred to as a Ponzi scheme. Building ever more malls as the existing ones fail seems to fall into the same category.
So who is foisting this Ponzi scheme onto Utah County? Apparently it’s the Craig Realty Group, a Newport Beach-based shopping center developer “that specializes in upscale factory outlet centers.” That quote comes from this BS-laced press release.
Naturally, the Craig Realty Group (via KSL) — which seems to have used a computer and perhaps Google maps but never firsthand observation of the real world — eschewed the phrase “Ponzi scheme” in favor of this justification for the mall’s existence:
The developer wanted the location for a lot of reasons. It is right off the freeway, in between Salt Lake and Provo, and next to Cabelas. The variety of businesses and prime location should attract male and female consumers, especially with the new mall bringing many stores to Utah for the first time.
This is perhaps a good time to remember the many failings and false promises of Cabelas and big boxes generally. (Also, a Scheels recently opened in one of the worst buildings in Utah, and it’s just up the freeway from Cabelas.)
Of course, I could be wrong. Perhaps in 100 years this mall will be a thriving epicenter of social life and economic vitality. But if that happens it would be truly unprecedented.
More likely, this project will provide an example of how not to grow a city. It’s a perfect example of big, cataclysmic investment that operates under a failed model of placemaking. It’s car centric in a world moving away from cars. It’s nonlocal and generic, both in what it offers and in its design. There is no precedent for its long term success — not just economically but as an asset to a thriving and vibrant city.
In other words, in the end it’s just more crap.
*Too often people who build crap aren’t called out for it. The KSL article about the Lehi mall is a great example, failing as it does to critically examine anything regarding malls generally or the project specifically. After my recent post on crap, I decided that if no one else is going to call these people out, I guess I should.