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University Place on its way to completing promises as retail hub of Orem

By Genelle Pugmire - | Oct 18, 2021

Courtesy Woodbury Corp.

People celebrate Pioneer Day at University Place.

In 1973, the Woodbury Corp. took a chance with a new flagship project called University Mall. At the time, other than a few homes and open fields, there wasn’t much in the 133 acres.

A new connector road had gone in from Provo to Orem and west to Interstate 15. Residents fondly called the new road “the diagonal.”

University Mall was the latest and greatest place to shop and the first indoor shopping mall in Utah County.

It was marketed at the retail center of Orem and Utah Valley. Now, nearly 50 years later, it is the retail center of Orem and Utah Valley.

It was predicted to bring the city and stakeholders a robust return on investments through sales tax revenues — and it has.

Courtesy Woodbury Corp.

This rendering shows the five-story parking terrace with four stories of Class A office space on top now under construction at University Place.

“Eighteen to 22% of the city’s total sales tax collection comes from University Place businesses. That amounts to $5.4 million to $6.6 million each year,” said Steven Downs, deputy city manager.

In 2014, when malls around the country were failing and big box anchor stores folding, the Woodbury Corp., managers and developers of University Place, stepped out of the box and redesigned the mall into a campus of retail shopping, Class A business spaces, housing and entertainment.

“What is happening at University Place is becoming a ‘poster child’ for malls around the country. A few years ago, a team from Georgia came to visit University Place in an attempt to learn about the project and perhaps utilize some of the same methods to revitalize what they considered to be a ‘dying mall’ in their community,” Downs said. “Earlier this year, that project became a reality as it was purchased with the intent to become a mixed-use project with residential, office, restaurants, transit and retail.”

In September 2014, the Orem City Council approved a Commercial Development Area, or CDA. The city was one of five taxing entities that needed to approve the project. The others are the Alpine School District, Utah County, Utah Water Conservancy District and the Orem Metropolitan Water District.

CDA use is not uncommon to Utah or around the country. It is the CDA tool that Lehi used to lure companies like Adobe and Xactware out of Orem. Pleasant Grove lured DoTerra. Nearly 2,000 jobs have been moved to nearby cities.

Conceptual rendering of new Hale Center Theater Orem proposed to be built at University Place.  The mall has pledged $1 million toward that effort. Courtesy photo

At the time, the city put a statement on its website as residents were concerned about their taxes being used and a big shell of a mall not doing anything but dying.

“There is no gamble,” said the city in the statement. “If Woodbury doesn’t build its development the city won’t have any property tax to share with them. Remember, Woodbury will only be receiving a portion of the new property tax that it will be required to pay as the value of its property increases. If it doesn’t do anything to increase the value of its property, then there is no money to share with Woodbury.”

“Alongside the CDA investment, Woodbury intended to invest approximately $500 million in new office, residential, hotel, retail and civic improvements at the heart of Orem on the University Place project site,” said Arty Woodbury, company vice president, when the CDA was approved. “These investments will help keep Orem competitive with other cities in the state that use similar state-authorized incentives to grow and attract businesses.”

On Monday, Woodbury, said the development company is ready to complete what it promised more than a decade ago.

According to Woodbury, it would have been done sooner but COVID-19 got in the way. In March, University Place and the Woodbury Corp. sought an amendment to the CDA agreement due to issues surrounding the pandemic.

The Orem City Council was asked to extend the tax increment payments on the University Place Community Development Agency for two years due to rising prices and lack of deliveries on construction materials for the mall. The council approved the extension.

“We are pleased we are achieving what we set out to do,” Woodbury said.

He noted that the 2011 closure of Nordstrom was a key turning point. Mervyn’s, another anchor store, had already closed.

“Key anchors around the country were imploding,” Woodbury said. “We saw an opportunity to create something new and exciting.”

“In 2011, we were very nervous for the health of our center. H&M was the first tenant that saw the vision of what we wanted to do,” he added. “Then Forever 21 and R.C. Willey came. Trader Joes was a huge addition. They chose this place because of what was planned.”

What has happened so far beside the redesign of the mall includes three apartment complexes: the Aston, Devon and Exton; new retail including Trader Joes and Dillards as well as several internal stores; numerous restaurants and The Orchard outdoor park and entertainment venue.

In all, University Place has more than 140 community events every year. This year has not changed that. After a large July 24 fireworks and entertainment event, the campus is transformed for the holidays.

Halloween activities are currently ongoing and within the month Santa will fly in on his helicopter to start the holiday season.

Inside, there will be opportunities to greet Santa, and for those with special needs a Quiet Santa will return for one-on-one experiences with each child.

Again this year, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its LDS Charities will provide Giving Machines for Christmas.

“This has become a vibrant hub for commerce and it has helped retailers come to the area,” Woodbury said.

At the moment, construction on a five-story parking garage with four-story Class A office space on top is in the completion stages. Dillard’s is planning for a spring opening. Tenants will begin moving into the office space beginning in late summer.

So what is next for the campus?

Besides Dillards and new office spaces, Woodbury said a 140-room Marriott Courtyard Hotel will start construction in 2022. “We would have been under construction already if it weren’t for COVID,” he said.

The Rush Funplex in the north wing of the mall area is under construction and will open this coming year.

There will be new areas for entertainment venues, the first of its kind in 2022, Woodbury noted.

It was in December 2018 that University Place and the Woodbury Corp., in conjunction with Orem, announced a proposed $1 million pledge to the Hale Center Theater Orem. The theater also would be provided a new location adjacent to The Orchard park on the University Place campus.

The proposed new facility would be built in the parking lot just north of The Orchard with a south-facing entrance. A restaurant pad and office building would be next door.

According to a joint press release by Woodbury and Hale Center Theater Orem, the theater development plans include a 568-seat theater with a proscenium thrust stage, which allows audience members on three sides of the stage, a black box theater that would seat 200, a grand lobby and more.

The theater would grow from its current 11,000-square-foot space, to about 64,000 square feet, with 316 parking stalls compared to about 87 available now, with some overflow.

“We are excited to be a part of the University Place,” said Cody Swenson, executive director of Hale Center Theater Orem.

While they aren’t ready just yet, Swenson said the theater is getting close to announcing about the progress of the fundraising and future buildout of the theater at University Place.

On the corner of 800 East and 800 South, where currently a vacant lot and a multitude of campaign posters reside, a new four-story apartment complex similar to the Devon, but with one less story, will begin construction.

When all of these projects are completed, the University Place campus will meet its CDA requirements and Orem will have a city within a city along the University Parkway and State Street.

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