HOLLADAY — The 58-acre dirt slab where the Cottonwood Mall used to stand is still very much an active development site, with national retailers tuning in.
Information surrounding which retailers and how many have signed letters of intent for the project remains confidential, however, and timing for pending construction and visible movement at the site hinges largely on economic recovery, said Holladay City Councilman James Palmer.
"It is moving forward, and there is movement behind the scenes," he said, adding that rumors of the property being sold, up for sale or that the developer isn't viable, are all false.
"I hate the term shovel-ready, but that's what it is. At any moment, they could begin construction. … They could walk into our offices tomorrow and file for building permits, but it could also be another two years before they do that," Palmer said. "It all comes down to when recovery of the national retail sector happens."
The Dallas-based Howard Hughes Corporation, which was borne out of a failing General Growth Properties that previously owned the land, has already invested $50 million in site development where the mall used to be. An inherited development agreement stated that the reorganized company should have at least $226 million invested in the property by 2013, but Palmer said it is clear that will not happen.
In June, the council and participating tax entities agreed to extend the 20-year, 5 percent tax incentive for the Howard Hughes Corporation, to encourage further investment on the property. Otherwise, Palmer said, the city might have been left holding the bag.
"We wanted to assure them that we were behind their project and apparently, that has worked," he said. "It's ready to be built at a moment's notice."
The company has said it intends to build a small, master-planned community on the site — including a mix of retail, upscale housing and restaurant space — that will be 10 to 11 times larger than the previous mall. The $550-million project is one of 13 future developments for the Howard Hughes Corporation, planned in 10 different states.
Hughes, which only began operation a year ago, has acquired eight operating developments and four completed master-planned communities in 11 states. One of the operating properties owned by the company is Cottonwood Square, which is adjacent to the lot where Cottonwood Mall once stood.
Neighboring retail locations have struggled financially through the years, some to the point of closure, but Palmer said the stand-alone Macy's store on the site continues to fare well, yielding higher sales volumes than many other locations in the region.
The Macy's store underwent renovation years before demolition of the pre-existing mall and the retailer opted to stay long term.
"It speaks a lot to the viability of the site, the demographics of the surrounding neighborhoods and the reason that General Growth and now Howard Hughes wanted to build there," Palmer said. Twenty percent of the property's anticipated traffic is expected to come from on-site residents.
The design of the future Cottonwood Mall, located at 4835 S. Highland Drive, was created by Miami-based Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, which has also done work for Wolf Mountain, northwest of Park City.
And while the Cottonwood Mall project has been in a holding pattern for several years, developers insist that they are making progress.
"We've been told there will be the attraction of unique retailers that you won't find elsewhere in this area," Palmer said.