If you grew up in the Spokane Valley in the 1970s and 1980s, chances are you sat on Santa’s lap at University City Mall. And maybe you got to buy your back-to-school shoes at J.C. Penney and a treat from Orange Julius for the trip home.
If that’s the case, then hold on to your memories: The mall, which opened in 1965 and served as the prime destination for Spokane Valley shoppers for decades, is being torn down.
Demolition began Wednesday and will include the old J.C. Penney building at the east end of the mall, the shopping arcade that stretched between J.C. Penney and the Crescent, and the parking ramp.
The former Crescent department store to the west will be left standing.
James Magnuson, president of University City Inc., which owns the mall and the old J.C. Penney building, said demolition was the only option.
“In the development business sometimes you reach the conclusion that the facilities are obsolete,” Magnuson said. “The mall is going down now and the plan is to move on to the J.C. Penney building.”
U-City Mall flourished in its younger years. It all began when Rosauers built a grocery store at University Road and Sprague Avenue in 1959. That store became part of the shopping center when U-City was built adjacent to it. The shopping center was expanded in 1980 to join the existing mall to The Crescent department store at the west end.
By the early 1990s, the mall was struggling. U-City expansions were proposed but never materialized, and rumors that Bon Marche (now Macy’s) would open there were finally put to rest when Spokane Valley Mall opened in August 1997 featuring not only the Bon Marche but also U-City tenants Lamont’s and J.C. Penney.
The loss of its two anchor tenants was more than U-City could handle, and it began to empty of retail shops. In the early 2000s some buildings were demolished.
A plan for University City Inc. to partner with the city of Spokane Valley in redeveloping U-City as the hub of a Spokane Valley city center failed in the late 2000s.
Percy’s Cafe Americana, which opened next to U-City in 1965 as The Golden Hour and hosted chamber of commerce meetings and many other community luncheons and dinners, lost its lease in 2009.
As retailers left, a call center, photography business, and Spokane County Sheriff’s Office training center moved in, but U-City’s days as a shopping mall were over.
Magnuson is also the manager of Idaho-based Dartmouth LLC, which recently sold 3.38 acres of the parking lot east of the mall to Spokane Valley as a site for its new city hall.
The demolition of the parking ramp facing Sprague Avenue is necessary because it straddles the land now owned by Spokane Valley.
Magnuson said the mall – the low building between the old J.C. Penney building to the east and the former Crescent to the west – covers a huge area, and once it’s gone it will open the area between Sprague and Appleway Boulevard for future developments.
“It’s the beginning of a redevelopment,” Magnuson said, “and there’s nothing I can tell you about those plans at this time.”
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