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Another buyer for Ogden City Mall

Boyer Co. wants to redesign the center for multiple uses

OGDEN — The Boyer Co. has made an offer to buy the beleaguered Ogden City Mall and redesign it into a multipurpose center for offices, retail operations, entertainment and possibly housing.

It would be the second time in less than 18 months that the troubled shopping center has been sold.

Mayor Matthew Godfrey said Boyer will have 150 days after the offer is accepted to close on the deal. Price was not announced.

The developer will use those five months for "due diligence" — examining the 20-year-old shopping center and identifying and recruiting tenants, the mayor said. It also is retaining architects to redesign the facility.

Boyer, the developer of the massive Gateway complex currently under construction in downtown Salt Lake City, is arguably Utah's best-known real estate developer, and Godfrey said he is "delighted" to be working with the company on his goal to revitalize Ogden's central business district.

"The mall redevelopment is a key element in revitalizing downtown. We want downtown Ogden to become the most exciting model urban center in all of Utah."

Godfrey said the mall redevelopment, along with 13 other downtown projects that are under way or in planning stages, is critical to that goal.

"Given the vacancy rates in the mall, this will be a very challenging project for The Boyer Co. to put together," Godfrey said. He estimated the planning and construction time at about two years.

Carl Cook, manager of Boyer's Ogden office, said the company has proposed a purchase price to the current owner, Haywood Whichard, but does not want to discuss it at this stage of the negotiations.

"It's really preliminary right now. We're just starting our evaluation," Cook said. "Conceptually, we've talked about a deal and exchanged documents, but we're still finalizing them. Everyone in Ogden would like to see (the mall) become a successful project. We'll see if we can't find a way to bring success to downtown Ogden."

The mall has been struggling for years. In 1998, Seattle-based Nordstrom surprised the city by announcing it would close its store in the mall that had opened to much fanfare in 1982. Nordstrom said at the time it had been losing money for years on the store.

That left J.C. Penney and ZCMI as the anchor tenants, but last September Penney also decided to pull the plug on its store when a marketing plan to use it as a discount outlet for slow-selling merchandise from its other stores fell flat.

See's Candies closed its store in the mall at the end of last year, and the former Lamont's space is also empty, leaving ZCMI — soon to become Meier & Frank — the only player left of the four original anchor tenants. There are about 30 smaller stores still in operation at the complex. Godfrey said he has talked with Meier & Frank officials, and they have told him they intend to keep the store open.

As for the 30 remaining shops, Godfrey said he believes that some or all will be able to stay in operation during the reconstruction. "We won't close ZCMI, so I imagine some portion of the other stores will stay open."

Opened in 1980, the mall was taken over by CIGNA Investment Management in 1996 after it foreclosed on the original mall developer, the Hahn Co., which the city had long criticized for failing to invest in improvements, maintenance and marketing.

CIGNA then invested $1 million in upgrading, at Nordstrom's request, its parking structure.

But CIGNA, an insurance company based in Connecticut, had no intention of becoming a permanent owner and immediately began looking for a buyer.

It found one in late 1999 when North Carolina businessman Haywood Whichard agreed to purchase the mall for an undisclosed price. Whichard was known as a developer who specialized in revitalizing properties with precisely the kind of problems being experienced by Ogden City Mall.

But Whichard had no more success than the previous owners and, according to Godfrey, did not act on promises to rebuild the complex.

"There has never been any drawings done, no design planning. They keep talking about a food court, but they haven't showed us any plans."

The mayor said Whichard has done with the Ogden City Mall what he does with all such deals. "He flips them," meaning he buys them to turn around and resell at a profit. Asked if he thought Whichard would make a profit this time, he said, "I'm sure he will."

The mayor said he wants the mall reinvented to a more pedestrian-friendly place with entertainment-type stores and theme restaurants.

"It could involve anything from tearing down the existing mall to tearing the roof off and opening it up," he said. "I think if you look nationwide you'll see that four-corner, anchor-type malls don't work."

The mayor said the city will work with Boyer on the renovation plans, and once they're completed he will seek support for the project from the City Council.