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Ground Finally Broken For Valley Mall Plans Include A Multiplex, Food Court, Sears, Penney, The Bon

In the giant chess game of retail development, JP Realty Inc. took a few of its opponents’ pawns Thursday when it unveiled plans for the Spokane Valley Mall.

It won’t be the biggest mall in the area - NorthTown still will retain that honor - but retail experts say the new mall will keep Valley shoppers in the Valley and re-slice the pie of available consumers.

The new mall is a formidable competitor for tenants in an already crowded field which includes River Park Square, NorthTown, University City and Silver Lake Mall in Coeur d’Alene.

JP Realty officials broke ground on the muchdelayed project Thursday, revealing ambitions that eventually could affect most of the region’s retail centers and boost the economy.

The biggest revelation was a multiplex with between 10 and 16 movie theaters, which JP Realty hopes will become the mall’s fourth anchor. JC Penney, Sears and The Bon Marche already have made commitments.

The first phase of the mall will encompass 700,000 square feet on two levels and will include the anchors, more than 100 stores and restaurants and a food court seating 500.

It’s due to open Aug. 20, 1997.

The theater complex raises the question of whether the Spokane area can sustain two large multiplexes. River Park Square owners announced in early March that their proposed downtown redevelopment includes a 20-plex cinema. However, neither project has signed a contract with a theater company.

Taking another jab at a competitor, JP Realty President G. Rex Frazier said the potential exists for the Valley mall to grow larger than NorthTown. There’s room for two more anchors in future phases of development on the company’s 85-acre site, he said. NorthTown, in contrast, is on a crowded urban site in north Spokane.

Frazier said the Valley mall at Sullivan and Interstate 90 will be a huge “regional” draw with more visibility and easier access than other shopping centers in the area.

As long as the Valley mall offers the same type of stores as NorthTown - and the three largest anchor stores are the same - it will steal Valley consumers from the North Side mall, said Larry Gresham, a marketing professor at the Center for Retailing Studies at Texas A&M; University.

“Unless you offer something really unique or different, people aren’t willing to drive more than three miles,” he said. “It’s strictly convenience. It’s that simple.”

Regardless of which retail center wins the most customers, the Spokane Valley Mall should provide an economic boost.

JP Realty said the mall would create at least 1,000 jobs and take in $100 million in annual sales. For county coffers, that means about $1 million in sales tax revenue.

In comparison, NorthTown Mall employed 2,500 people in 1994 and generated $230 million in sales. That meant just under $2 million in sales tax revenue for the city of Spokane.

“Personally, I think this is the defining moment of the Spokane Valley’s growth and development - the creation of a central business district,” county Commissioner Steve Hasson said.

The short-term economic impact also will be great.

Mall construction alone will create 250 jobs, Frazier said, and though he would not put a price tag on the entire project, construction of the main body of the mall - not including the anchors - has been estimated at $16 million by contractor Garco Construction.

Construction jobs are, on average, high-paying, said Bob Cooper, president of the Spokane Area Economic Development Council. And demand for construction supplies will have a ripple effect of creating work for suppliers, he said.

“There’s all this wood, all this fiberboard, all this electrical conduit. With all of the stuff that goes into building a house, can you imagine building a mall?” Cooper said.

Though Frazier would not say who other anchors or tenants might be, he said they’d be the “conventional retailers you’d see in any mall.”

Collier Reid, leasing agent for the mall, identified one group of stores interested in the mall. JP Realty received a “very strong presentation,” Reid said, from The Limited Stores, a group of stores that frequently acts as an anchor in malls nationwide.

Among The Limited Stores are The Limited, Bath and Body Works, Express, Victoria’s Secret, Structure, Lane Bryant and Lerner New York.

Reid said he expects anywhere from four to nine Limited stores to locate in the Valley Mall. “We won’t get them all,” he said, “but we’ll be on the high end.”

Other stores possibly could come from nearby University City shopping center. Several of that mall’s tenants said they have approached JP Realty about either moving to the new mall or putting an additional store there.

“It sure is something we’ve considered,” said Lori Freeman, manager of Cartoon Classics, a purveyor of products decorated with such cartoon characters as Betty Boop and the Tasmanian Devil.

“Either way, we’ll have a store in the Valley,” Freeman said. “It just would be (a question of) where.”

Though U-City is seen by many as most certain to suffer when the Spokane Valley Mall opens, U-City’s management company, Goodale and Barbieri Group of Companies, disagrees.

The Spokane Valley Mall has generated a lot of interest in the Valley, “not just the (JP Realty) project, but University City as well,” said G&B; Vice President David Peterson.

Peterson said G&B; is getting closer to making an announcement about a major retail anchor for U-City’s east side which would occupy between 50,000 and 60,000 square feet.

“A lot of retailers don’t want to go into a large retail center,” Peterson said. “They want to go in where people live.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Drawing