An “Illuminating” Chain of Events
In March of 2015, Oro Valley Marketplace (OVM) had been operating for over 6 years when David Malin, (Vestar’s Project Manager for OVM) admitted during a council meeting that Vestar was still “scrambling to find tenants.” He insisted that adding illuminated signs on the back of the buildings would help them to attract the “dynamic tenants” that they were seeking. He implored the Town Council to revise the Master Sign Program to allow illuminated signs on the backside of the stores facing Oracle and Tangerine Roads.
That same evening, the Town Council voted 4-3 to revise the Master Sign Program at OVM to accommodate Vestar, thereby breaking a 9-year long agreement with Oro Valley residents to prohibit illuminated signs on those roadways in order to preserve the beauty of these scenic corridors. It will come as no surprise to avid LOVE readers that it was Mayor Hiremath and Councilmembers Hornat-Snider-Waters who voted to approve, while Councilmembers Burns-Garner-Zinkin were opposed.
David Malin presented the following plea during the March 4, 2015 Town Council meeting:
“All we’re asking for is to be on a level playing field. At the end of the day, this is a shopping center. We did spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and contributed public art in the middle of this project…but at the end of the day, we need to operate a successful shopping center and a successful shopping center is getting in as many dynamic tenants as we can so that lots of customers in the community go out and spend lots of money so we can make lots of sales tax for the Town.
Every time a retailer can’t check off a box, like whether they can have a sign on the back of their building, facing the road, we are then not on a level playing field. We are then scrambling to find tenants, which is where we are today.”
The Chamber of Commerce also weighed in:
Dave Perry, President of the Greater Oro Valley Chamber of Commerce, submitted a letter to the Town Council supporting the Master Sign Program revision. He wrote in part:
“The Marketplace has shining, successful businesses, but others that need more traffic. Last month, two Marketplace businesses closed. It is our understanding that others want to lease space in the Marketplace, but they want assurances of rear-wall signage.
We respectfully request those permissions be granted so that Oro Valley Marketplace can step closer to its full potential.”
Fast-forward to July 2017: Two years and four months later…
Two years is certainly enough time to determine whether or not the addition of illuminated signs on Oracle and Tangerine has been instrumental in drumming up new business. So, what is the status after two years and four months?
Only two new businesses have opened
It turns out that Vestar is still “scrambling to find tenants” because in the past two years since the Town agreed to revise the Master Sign Program, Vestar has attracted only two new businesses to OV Marketplace. Those businesses are Southern Arizona Urgent Care and Sakura Sushi (which according to Town records, opened in November 2015 and August 2016, respectively).
This begs the question, what happened to all of the other businesses that Dave Perry mentioned in his letter that would lease space at OVM once they had assurances of rear-wall signage? As of July 15, 2017, there are still 22 empty storefronts at Oro Valley Marketplace.
The $23 million dollar boondoggle
Many of you will remember that Vestar convinced the Town Council (and 52% of Oro Valley voters) to agree to a sales tax “incentive” known as an Economic Development Agreement (EDA) whereby Oro Valley would be required to share 45% of our sales tax revenue with Vestar up to $23.2 million dollars. In return, we were promised a “unique” mall with “signature shops.” What did we get? Discount chains including Wal-Mart and Big Lots and chain restaurants to include Olive Garden and In-N-Out-Burger.
Another grossly oversold enterprise
So in the end, the Majority-4 did an end run around the Town sign code, the Dark Skies initiative, and any consideration for what the residents wanted so they could entertain yet another request from a multi-million dollar corporation to prop up a failing enterprise which was grossly oversold to the taxpayers.
Part 2 of this article will be published tomorrow.
Diane Peters has lived in Oro Valley since 2003, moving here to escape the humidity of the East Coast. She’s been involved in OV politics and development issues since 2006. In 2014, she organized a citizens group, Citizen Advocates of the Oro Valley General Plan, who over a 9-month period, successfully negotiated a controversial 200-acre development project slated for the LaCholla-Naranja-Lambert-Shannon area. In her past life, she worked in medical research at various University Hospitals in New England. Her interests include reading, writing, nature photography, travel, art galleries, museums, and politics.