Eminent Domain and The Revitalization of Neighborhoods

dillards LongmontYou need merely drive by Twin Peaks Mall in Longmont, Colorado to realize that it’s dead. Dead as in could be the setting for a zombie apocalypse movie dead. There’s still a movie theater, one restaurant and a chain store — Dillard’s — but it’s a mall without any tenants and the parking lot’s empty. 900 spots, 30 cars. It’s not pretty.

Most people drive by and shrug. Businesses fail. Not all shopping malls are successful and it’s true that the developments on the other side of the street the Mall’s on are all doing well, with a Home Depot, a Super Target, a Sprouts market, and many more box stores and chains finding business is just fine.

But the problem for the city of Longmont is that there’s no tax revenue coming from a huge parcel of land in a prime spot, the southern tip of town where it’s an easy fifteen minute drive from Boulder and parts south.

After years of negotiating with different developers, Longmont was happy to announce a deal with NewMark Merrill Mountain States, a deal that, with substantial tax credits and other incentives, would help the company raze and completely reinvent the Twin Peaks Mall (probably under a new name).

Except for one little problem.

Dillard’s.

Turns out that Arkansas-based Dillard’s doesn’t want to move and they don’t want to be part of an open-air mall. They don’t want to shut down, they don’t want to sell. They have dug in their heels and are insisting that their lease gives them the right to stay put, even as the rest of the mall collapse into ruin.

And so after over a year of negotiating, the city of Longmont has pulled out the big guns, the law that helps highways widen and has a long history: eminent domain.

In essence, it means that the city can override leases, can override property ownership and force the owner to sell to the city at a “fair market value”, disagreement be damned.

For the record, the developer had already offered a generous $3.5mil for the 94,000sf building and surrounding area.

Study the expansion of America and there are two concepts that come up again and again: eminent domain and manifest destiny. The former is how they rationalized taking land from the natives with either no compensation or very minimal compensation, and the latter explained that it was, in essence, God’s will that we expand ever further.

And so the expansion of the American West has come back to Longmont Colorado, by way of a failed shopping mall and a new developer.

And in this case I think Dillard’s was wrong. The mall has died and even if their store is doing well, it’s clearly time for some new thinking, for a major change in Twin Peaks Mall to help the community, the other businesses and the city.

Source: Longmont OK’s Taking of Dillard’s Property.

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