A California developer has scaled back plans to build International Expo - initially billed as one of the nation’s largest shopping destinations.
“We just haven’t been able to get a deal together,” said Jim Watson of Watson & Associates, who had proposed a regional mall at Post Falls. “So we’ll have more emphasis on industrial uses. … There are other industrial users indicating an interest in the site.”
Expo’s focus changed earlier this year when Kootenai County began trying to lure Micron Technology Inc. Watson & Associates, of Seal Beach, Calif., put its retail plans on the back burner in favor of bringing Micron’s expansion plant to a 640-acre site along Interstate 90.
But Micron shocked business recruiters and Watson on Monday by rejecting all Idaho sites as finalists for its $1.3 billion plant.
On Tuesday, Watson said industry, not retail, probably will take up the lion’s share of his prime acreage stretching from Post Falls to the Washington border. Even with Micron out of the picture, Watson said it’s unlikely that he’ll pursue a retail center as large as the one he has dreamed of since 1992.
Watson’s grand plans for a shopping theme park similar in scale to Mall of America in Minnesota hit a fatal snag: No major retailers have committed to locating in Post Falls.
The Inland Northwest’s next regional mall likely will be located at a site owned by JP Realty Inc. in the Spokane Valley or on Watson’s property in Post Falls.
Fred Meyer Stores Inc. has purchased property at Expo but has not announced plans to build a store.
City Administrator John Hendrickson said industrial development would be welcome, even though Post Falls generally had rallied behind Watson’s plans for a megamall.
“There really wasn’t an expectation about Expo one way or the other,” he said. “But we were very pleased with the Expo idea.”
To be successful, the proposed International Expo would have had to draw shoppers from as far away as Montana, Canada, Oregon and Washington.
“We’re becoming a little bit skeptical as to whether that will come together,” Watson said.
Consequently, the word “International” will be dropped from the Expo project name. The retail development was to have an international flair, similar to a theme park.
Artists’ drawings of International Expo hinted of a Disneyland concept, with dramatic entrances for cars and pedestrians. Expo, in concept, was to have employed more than 11,000 people and generate $34 million in annual sales taxes.
It was to contain nearly 3 million square feet of retail space in several “power centers,” as well as a fully enclosed 10-acre regional mall. That’s about three times the size NorthTown Mall in Spokane.
Watson said some retail development still is under way. And even the regional mall has not been scrapped altogether. Watson said he’ll still build a major “power center” on the property. A power center is a retail development comprised of one or more anchor tenants and several smaller retailers.
Despite a major change in focus, work at the Expo site will continue. About 1,000 feet of Expo Parkway, the main road leading to the site from the east, will be built west of Pleasantview Road this summer. And millions of cubic yards of rock and soil are being removed to prepare Expo land for grading.
The prime location of the Watson property makes it attractive. But a glut of industrial land in Kootenai County may make Watson’s change of plans difficult to accomplish.
“I know there’s a lot of light industrial ground around Kootenai County,” said Bob Potter, president of business recruiter Jobs Plus. He said industrial uses for the land - or a mix of industry and retail - may be better for the region’s economy.
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