FOOTHILLS MALL: FORT COLLINS, CO
David Kruger's Commentary
Posted March 5, 2008 (user submitted)
Foothills Mall (also known as Foothills Fashion Mall) opened on South College Avenue in 1973, on what was then the south edge of Fort Collins, Colorado. At the time, it was Fort Collins' second and unquestionably superior mall, with more specialty shops and much larger department stores, including Sears, May D&F, and Denver Dry Goods ("The Denver"). While the mall did not have indoor theaters, the Foothills Twin was just across the parking lot from May D&F. Foothills Mall underwent two expansions, first in 1980, and again in 1989. When The Denver closed in 1981, J.C.Penney quickly relocated its downtown store to that location. Mervyn's became the mall's fourth anchor in the 1980's, and May D&F was converted to Foley's in 1993 (Foley's converted to Macy's in 2006).
Foothills Mall had an unusual configuration of being sort of a rectangle – each of the four anchors held a corner of the rectangle, with two major parallel mall corridors, one between Sears and Macy's, the other between Mervyn's and J.C.Penney. Additionally, smaller corridors of shops connected Macy's to J.C.Penney, and the central mall entrance to Mervyn's. The food court for Foothills was spread out along the south area between Sears and Mervyn's.
Despite being several miles from I-25, Foothills Mall was clearly the dominant mall of Northern Colorado, Southern Wyoming, and Western Nebraska from the early 1980's until at least 2004. Foothills Mall was consistently busy year round, and was regarded as a "cool" place to shop and be for virtually every demographic within 50 miles. It all but destroyed the older indoor "Liberty Mall" by the 1980's (the only original tenant of the former Liberty is King's Soopers Grocery – the rest is now a redeveloped power center with no internal access). A smaller indoor mall south of it ("The Square") was complementary rather than competitive, and has largely become specialty shops with outlying restaurants, such as Chili's. Regionally, Foothills was also larger, cleaner, and more modern than the Greeley Mall in Greeley, cleaner and safer than Northglenn Mall in north Denver (which died in the early 1990's and was razed/redeveloped in 1998), and busier than Cheyenne's Frontier Mall and Longmont's Twin Peaks Mall.
College Avenue and rapid population growth along the Front Range of Colorado were both responsible for the rise of Foothills Mall, just as they have been responsible for its recent fall. When the mall opened in 1973, Fort Collins had a population of only 44,000, and the city firmly controlled retail growth by keeping virtually every major retailer along the College Avenue corridor. From the 1950's to the late 1990's, EVERYTHING in Fort Collins had been either on College Avenue. College Avenue also was the main street for downtown Fort Collins, as well as the primary avenue through Colorado State University, and eventually the highway to nearby Loveland. With its College Avenue location, Foothills Mall undeniably reigned as the retail epicenter of Fort Collins – with Kmart about a mile north on College, Target and Shopko about a mile south on College, and Wal*Mart about a mile and a half south on College. Home Depot was one block off. By the year 2000, College Avenue featured virtually every national restaurant, movie theatre complex, auto dealership, category killer, and national chain store in Fort Collins, all within 2 miles of Foothills Mall. However, this quaint, centralized business arrangement increasingly became undermined by Fort Collin's booming population - from 1973 to 2000, nearly 80,000 additional people moved to Fort Collins, bringing with them increased traffic and congestion. Indeed, by 2000, Fort Collins was three times as large as it had been when Foothills Mall opened 27 years earlier, and College Avenue had become as cramped and cumbersome as any metropolitan boulevard in nearby Denver.
Over time, the pressure of a booming population and heavy traffic led the city to finally allow major retailers off the College Avenue corridor. Wal*Mart was given permission to open a Supercenter on North Lemay in 2001, with Home Depot also getting a second store in the same area. Cinemark was allowed to put a 15 screen multiplex on East Harmony and Timberline (while College Avenue multiplexes such as Foothills Twin, Carmike 5, and Arbor 4 all closed). In addition, massive upscale growth of neighboring cities, such as Loveland and Windsor, led to new retail competition for Foothills Mall. In 2005, the outdoor "Promenade Shoppes at Centerra" opened just off Loveland's I-25 exit, drawing people away from College Avenue and Fort Collins, particularly Foothills Mall. What has truly damaged Foothills Mall, though, were the decisions of two retailers, Mervyn's and Shopko, to close their College Avenue stores. The decisions were statewide, but Mervyn's 2005 closure was a direct hit on Foothills, leaving behind a 75,000 sf. anchor space. Shopko's closure would indirectly lead to a second hit on the mall. While Shopko was a mile down College from Foothills Mall, its location was nearly 100,000 sf. and more in tune with newer J.C.Penney store prototypes. J.C.Penney announced in 2006 that they would be vacating their 50,000 sf. Foothills Mall store for a freestanding, larger location in the former Shopko.
The anchor spaces that Mervyn's and J.C.Penney have recently left behind will be difficult for Foothills Mall to lease. Both anchors are really too small for any prospective store to occupy in 2007, and somewhat unattractive for a department store (such as Dillards) that would have to operate in both spaces just to have a mall presence. In the meantime, the corridor between what had been Mervyn's and J.C.Penney is dying a slow death, with additional vacancies spreading into the corridor between J.C.Penney and Macy's and the food corridor between Mervyn's and Sears. There is very little incentive for shoppers to go into these corridors without anchors to draw them. The city of Fort Collins is extremely aware of the mall potentially becoming "urban blight", and has proactively proposed redeveloping the former J.C.Penney space and tearing down the former Mervyn's to attract a large, upscale department store to Foothills. While a Laser Golf business has taken over half of the old J.C.Penney, it is clear that this is not what the city has in mind for the mall. As of May 2007, the city of Fort Collins has proposed a redevelopment plan (http://fcgov.com/ura/pdf/foothills-urp-doc.pdf) for Foothills Mall.
While Foothills Mall isn't dead yet (it is – literally – half dead), the best days of its life are clearly behind it. Macy's and Sears remain as anchors, but Macy's now has a newer and larger store at Loveland's Promenade/Centerra. Even if Macy's keeps their Foothills store, the mall won't survive with only two anchors.