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The City Journals

Valley Fair Mall continues to evolve

Mar 11, 2020 01:58PM ● By Darrell Kirby

The look and layout Valley Fair Mall is much different today than it was in the 1990s. (Courtesy Vestar/Valley Fair Mall)

By Darrell Kirby | [email protected]

Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said there is nothing permanent except change.

Such is the case with Valley Fair Mall in West Valley City. 

About a decade ago, the mall underwent a $50 million makeover that updated the look and layout of the enclosed mall and added an outdoor component that includes stores, shops, restaurants, a splash pad, and an open space for events or to just sit and relax. In all, it made for one-million square feet of retail space. 

Since then, a changing retail landscape and consumer tastes have brought some new storefronts to and the departure of others from the retail center. “Evolution is natural. People listen to customers and what they want,” said Casey Bulkley, general manager of Valley Fair for retail property management company Vestar. “We’re trying to really listen to the community and trying to respond to what they need.” Vestar owns and/or manages 30 million square feet of retail space in the western U.S., including the recently acquired Gateway in downtown Salt Lake City.

One of the more notable stores to come to Valley Fair Mall in recent months is Hobby Lobby. The fast-growing arts and crafts chain with more than 900 stores in the U.S. opened in 2019 in the space formerly occupied by anchor tenant Macy’s. “We’re really excited to get them,” Bulkley said. 

A first-of-its-kind addition to Valley Fair is currently under construction on the eastern boundary of the property’s 70 acres next to Interstate 215. Marriott International is building a 133-room SpringHill Suites hotel. It is scheduled to open this fall. (See accompanying article on page X). 

It is not part of Valley Fair, but a project that could have a big impact on its businesses is a planned multi-family housing development on land south of the mall and west of Costco. 

Bulkley says its future residents along with those currently in the Fairbourne Station apartments to the west and in surrounding neighborhoods could make Valley Fair attractive for a grocery store similar to Walmart Neighborhood Market or Trader Joe’s. He cited those well-known names only as examples of the types of grocers that might be a good fit. 

On the dining front, Bulkley says a deal has been signed for Red Lobster to open a restaurant at the north end of Valley Fair. A couple of new-to-the-area hamburger outlets will fill empty spots in the mall’s food court. 

Family-oriented All Star Bowling and Entertainment and its adult-targeted Pins & Ales Restaurant and Brew Pub next door are other businesses that have come to Valley Fair recently.  Bulkley knows them well. He oversaw operations at All Star Bowling’s five area locations before joining Vestar in January to manage Valley Fair. 

Pulling out of Valley Fair in the near future is Bed Bath & Beyond. It is one of 40 stores the company plans to shutter across the country this year. Bulkley says “a number of interested parties” are eyeing the space to be vacated by the home goods retailer. 

Elsewhere at the mall, Bulkley says two nationally known brands that he can’t disclose right now are close to signing leases and Bank of America is scheduled to open a branch. 

Valley Fair has about 150 businesses today for a fairly healthy 92% occupancy rate. The national average is 93%, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.

“As committed as we are to everyone that is currently on this property, we’re not terrified if somebody decides to move because we have a line of people that are interested in exploring new opportunities (at Valley Fair),” Bulkley said. 

But he wants it to be more than just a shopping destination. He would also like it to grow as a community gathering place. The mall is working with Visit Salt Lake, the county’s convention and visitors bureau, to attract more indoor and outdoor events to the property.  

Valley Fair Mall opened in 1970, 10 years before West Valley became a city. Bulkley mentioned a recent conversation he had with someone who recalled what a big deal a weekend excursion to the new mall was to hang out for the day. “What we’re seeing is kind of a return to its roots of this spectacular place to come hang out,” he said. 

The evolution of Valley Fair is common in the industry these days. “Tenant diversification is a national trend with distinct increases in entertainment, fitness, and food and beverage offerings in shopping centers,” said International Council of Shopping Centers spokeswoman Stephanie Cegielski. “Incorporating these tenants may require redevelopment and a mix of enclosed and open-air. Each property is unique.”

Cegielski adds that e-commerce can work hand-in-hand with brick-and-mortar shopping centers, not against them. “The goal of redevelopment and tenant diversification is not to counter the growth of e-commerce. In fact, online and physical retail benefit each other in many ways, working in tandem to provide the best experience for consumers, which, in turn, boosts the bottom line for retailers.”

ICSC says its research shows that a physical store boosts a brand’s online traffic by an average of 37%. Conversely, for every $100 spent online, another $131 is spent in-store. 

Bulkley says that, a continued strong economy, and keeping up with consumer wants and needs should ensure a bright foreseeable future for Valley Fair. 

“There’s a lot going on. We’re excited.”