Spokane Journal of Business

Group Photographersmoves into U-City Mall

Developer hopes changes in Valley traffic flow will help fill empty spaces

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Group Photographers Association last month moved from Liberty Lake into the first floor of the old Lamonts building at University City, filling that building.

That leaves 20,000 square feet of space to fill in the 480,000-square-foot shopping center, located on East Sprague in the Spokane Valley, says Orville Barnes, U-City developer and owner of Barnes Consulting Co., of Spokane.

Now well work on from that point east, Barnes says.

Group Photographers is a photo lab for youth sports team members across the country, making items such as customized sports trading cards, magazine covers, and calendars. The company joins ICT Group, a customer service call center, in the former Lamonts space, which is on the west end of the mall.

The future of U-City is as a mixed-use space, with office tenants and hopefully a little retail, Barnes says.

We dont have the luxury, I guess, of being terribly selective about what we take, he says, but adds that prospective occupants have to be the right fit. Currently, hes seeking retail businesses that can survive off of the Spokane Valley population and dont rely on attracting customers from farther away.

Whether anyone else believes this or not, this particular property is virtually in the center of that population, he says.

Other prospective tenants include retail businesses on the north side of East Sprague, who may be seeing a drop in business since the Valley couplet opened, Barnes says. U-City has access from both sides of the couplet on Sprague Avenue and Appleway Boulevard, which makes it a good location for retail tenants, Barnes says. Moving businesses from established locations takes time, though, because stores have to wait for their leases to run out and also must raise the money to relocate, he says.

We have a piece of property that I think is strategically located, Barnes says.

Currently, no other tenants are lined up, he says.

Future plans call for changes in the look of U-City, Barnes says. One possible change is the elimination of the parking garage ramp that juts out into the parking lot on the north side of the building, he says.

There will never be an interior mall at U-City again, he says. It just wont work. U-City cant compete with the freeway access via Interstate 90 to the Spokane Valley Mall, which increases that centers visibility and accessibility to people outside the area, he says.

The opening of the Spokane Valley Mall played a big role in the demise of U-City as a retail center, Barnes adds. At that time, J.C. Penney and Lamonts were U-Citys anchor tenants. Then J.C. Penney made the decision to move, he says, and Lamonts went out of business. After that, business dwindled, and the smaller stores gradually moved away.

Barnes also says he wont try to focus too much on retail for U-City because malls are typically not as successful as they once were, and because he believes that Spokane, like most of the nation, simply has too much retail space for all of it to be profitable.

Barnes attributes the slowdown in business at malls partly to the softening U.S. economy, but says the trend predates the economic shift. The retail areas seeing the most growth in the country are strip malls with big discount stores, such as Target or Wal-Mart, he says.

Barnes says its impossible to predict when all the space at U-City will be filled. I think if we see a turnaround in business conditions it would obviously take less time to fill that place up, he says.

He adds, In the best of times, there are people who go broke; in the worst of times, there are those who expand.

  • Adrienne DellwoC.

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