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RV industry is joining mall mania at new site

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Those of us born before the baby boom and the invention of the shopping mall love to reminisce on what we believe to be the golden age of retailing in Salt Lake City, when we were young and all of the downtown area was busy and vibrant and the best stores were spread all over town.

We fondly recall making our way up and down Main Street, from the old ZCMI on the north to Auerbach's on the south, with stops at Loftus Novelty, Al Hohman's Florsheim, Hibbs, Mednick's, Woolworth's and many more. I really miss cutting through Kress's, where you could buy a hotdog or a big bag of popcorn for a dime.When we wanted to take in a movie, there were no gigaplexes. Our movie palaces were the Centre, Uptown, Rialto, Studio, Lyric and Utah (double feature on Saturdays with 10 cartoons and a serial for 14 cents and a Hyland milk label). On State Street, there were the Gem and State, both declared off-limits by parental fiat. I recall seeing a huge rat run across the stage while watching a matinee at the Gem circa 1952.

Today, the mall rats run on two legs, not four.

In our memories of downtown, the wind never blows, the sidewalks are never slippery and the snow, if it falls at all, is gentle and never sticks to the ground. The lights are brighter, the restaurants serve better food for less money, the children are polite and we all smile at one another as we make plans to meet at Keeley's for a sandwich and soda.

In other words, we pine for the days before shopping malls.

Yes, we understand all the benefits that have come from the mallification of downtown, and we wouldn't really want to go back to trudging those three blocks up Main in a January blizzard or a hot day in July. Still, there was something romantic about downtown in those pre-mall days.

But romance or no, the marketing concept of bringing groups of retailers together into a single location has clearly proven its worth and continues to gather steam even in areas late to the party -- so-called "auto malls" come to mind, as does the grouping together of retail "outlet" stores.

Now comes a totally new industry niche to embrace retail togetherness: the 32-acre Outdoor Recreation Outlets being developed near the confluence of Redwood Road and I-215 in North Salt Lake.

The complex will bring together distributors of boats, snowmobiles, personal watercraft, motorcycles, recreation vehicles, camping trailers and all-terrain vehicles -- a whole array of machines and equipment aimed at leisure pursuits.

The $10 million project is being developed by the Terry Seiter Family Trust on the southwest corner of the I-215 and Redwood Road interchange, an area that has heavy exposure to passing traffic: 7,968 vehicles per day on Redwood and 46,208 on I-215.

Gleed Toombes of Colliers Commerce CRG, a Salt Lake commercial real estate firm that is brokering the project, describes the development as "kind of a mall for recreational vehicles."

There's that word again.

Currently, the developers are awaiting final approvals from North Salt Lake to begin curb cuts and work on roads, utilities and other infrastructure.

The site is adjacent to the new Jordan River State Recreation Park and its motocross track and "airport" for flying model planes.

Toombes said similar RV malls have been built in other states, so the concept is a proven one.

As leases are signed, ground will be broken and construction will begin on the various parcels. Each dealer occupying Outdoor Recreation Outlets will remain independent.

"We're getting a lot of activity now from prospects," said Toombes. "We are currently negotiating leases with three dealers and a convenience store for the site."

Toombes expects Outdoor Recreation Outlets to attract dealers seeking to relocate from their current sites in the Mountain West or those looking for an expansion location.

The project is expected to be available by fall. Depending on the size of lots taken by the individual companies, Toombes expects it to accommodate some 10 RV dealers.

E-mail (max@desnews.com) or fax 801-236-7605. Max Knudson's column runs each Monday.