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Victoria's Secret is coming to the South Towne Center, a sure sign that the shopping center is coming of age.

The lingerie company is no marketing novice, and its local debut - along with the impending appearance of more big-time retailers in the neighborhood - suggests that critical consumer mass has at last been achieved."This is going to be the best mall in the state of Utah," declared Tim Bruce, a senior vice president for Equity Properties and Development, the Chicago company that owns South Towne and 20 other malls around the country.

"It's got the best location, the best demographics, the best visibility," boasted Bruce, a claim that's been made for almost a decade but - until now - laughed off by skeptics.

The rap on the mall for years was that it was ahead of its time. One writer in 1989 dubbed South Towne and environs "an area fit for wilderness designation." It had cows. It had barns. It had horseflies and hominy.

But it didn't have shoppers.

No matter. Equity knew that if the company built it they would come, and in time retail ground-breaking went berserk, perhaps eclipsing in sheer construction speed and volume anything else in the history of the state.

To the patient went the spoils.

"At first I wondered did we make the right choice," recalled Betty Ware, who with her husband, Roy, five and a half years ago opened an Allstate Insurance outlet across the street from South Towne. "Tenants here would come and go like crazy. There wasn't a business that would stay for longer than a year."

"But about two years ago, things just took off."

Now the Wares have lots of business and plenty of competition too. Not one, not two, but three other insurance agents have moved into the same shopping center.

Traffic statistics confirm the obvious. The Utah Department of Trans-portation reported seven years ago the average daily vehicle count on 10600 South at Interstate 15 was 18,410. It jumped to 26,000 by 1990 and last year was almost 30,000.

"We know there are going to be growth problems," conceded Dan Simons, Sandy's economic development director.

But if you're going to have trouble, maybe this is the kind to have. The boom means that finally the city will realize its grand scheme of becoming south-valley central, a shopping mecca to the masses, and that it can pay for the infrastructure that it's installed at considerable expense to the public.

Supply-side real-estate economics are alive and brutally well. In the last year alone property has more than doubled in price, selling now by the square foot instead of the acre. Simons said raw land in the South Towne area now runs as high as $10 a square foot, which calculates out to not much less than a half-million dollars an acre.

A clue to the why of it all appears in the guise of the Brunswick Recreation Center, which opened near the corner of 10600 and State Street 18 months ago with 40 bowling lanes, a Circus World Pizza and Kids Zone, an indoor playground for youngsters.

"It's a family oriented business," explained Tom Burker, general manager of the complex, which is operated by the Brunswick Corp. of suburban Chicago, owner of 120 similar businesses in the United States and Europe.

"It's a young population. That's why we're here. It's a growing population."

This, figures Burke, is the future: "We hope this is going to be the center of Sandy and that State Street will be the main thoroughfare for many years to come."

Wal-Mart, the Arkansas company with a legendary ability to gauge the pulse of the populace, is building a 130,000-square-foot store right next door and will be up and running by April. Mervyn's will open a South Towne anchor in September. Montgomery Ward will break ground soon on another corner of the mall, with plans to be in business by next August. New or soon-to-arrive restaurants include Home Town Buffet, Schlotsky's, TGI Friday's, La Frontera and Taco Bell.

The Utah Auto Mall, long languishing in the shadow of Murray's retail-car industry, might finally be taking off. Larry H. Miller, owner of 22 new-car dealerships in Utah and surrounding states, is opening Larry H. Miller South Towne Used Car Center, perhaps the catalyst needed to bring dealerships in volume to the area.

A fire that destroyed a Marriott Courtyard hotel midway through construction last month didn't quash its builder's zest for a piece of the pie. In a matter of days, demolition crews were on site and construction had resumed.

Equity Properties itself is moving beyond the confines of the mall, only last week submitting plans for the South Towne Market Place, a shopping center and office project on 30 open acres between State Street and Centennial Place, a road the city will complete next spring.

Unannounced newcomers could include an as-yet unnamed insurance company thinking about putting a 40,000-square-foot office building on open land near Novell Inc. between City Hall and the mall.

And growth is hardly limited to the South Towne side of the freeway. The city is preparing to pipe water to about 200 acres on the west side of I-15, where e.n.u.f. International wants to build a 76,000-square-foot shirt-dying factory, sparking what developers expect will be the inception of a Sandy industrial park.

Frenetic as it sometimes seems, this might be but a hint of things to come. Ware, the insurance broker, imagines a not-so-distant day when 1994 will be a hazy memory of sleepier South Towne times.

"I think it's maybe not quite there yet," said Ware. "But it will be."



Vehicle volume

10600 South average daily traffic count at I-15:

1987 18,410

1989 20,410

1991 26,885

1993 29,325

*Source: Utah Department of Transportation.