University Mall; Orem, Utah

Provo, Utah is a city of almost 120,000 people located 40 miles south of Salt Lake City, Utah’s largest city and the state capital.  Provo is also located near the southern end of an urban corridor known as the Wasatch Front, a heavily populated valley which, due to geography, stretches nearly 120 miles from north to south and only 20 miles east to west.  With over 2 million residents, the Wasatch Front contains over 80 percent of Utah’s entire population.  Provo is also known for being the home of Brigham Young University, one of the nation’s largest private colleges, and for technology.  And, due to the proximity to nearby mountains, amazing views can be had from nearly everywhere in the valley. 

Provo, along with the entire Wasatch Front, has been growing in recent decades, tripling in population since 1950 and filling in the entire narrow valley with suburban growth.  The southern Wasatch corridor, consisting of Provo and its Utah Valley environs, is currently home to two malls, which opened in 1973 and 1998, respectively. 

The single level University Mall, which opened 1973, was the first mall in the Provo area.  The mall is actually located in Orem, a planned suburban city immediately north of Provo.  Orem, much like Provo and the rest of the Wasatch Front, has grown from a population of 18,000 in 1960 to a population of nearly 100,000 today.   

When University Mall opened, it was anchored by Utah-based ZCMI – one of the only major retailers owned by a religious organization, the Mormon Church – and JCPenney.  The mall’s opening was a sore point for officials in Provo, who wanted the mall to be located there – in the middle of downtown, but ultimately the developer was won over by the sprawling space offered up by Orem and the proximity to all the college students at BYU, the mall’s namesake. 

One of the first major changes at University Mall was the addition of north anchor Mervyn’s, a California-originated department store operated by Dayton-Hudson of Minneapolis, in July 1981. 

In the late 1990s, a war erupted between the University Mall and a developer wanting to build a new mall in south Provo.  The new mall’s developer convinced JCPenney to abandon its post at University Mall with a promise of part ownership in the new mall.  JCPenney took the deal and ran, closing their University Mall store in late 1997.   A lawsuit and local war ensued, even as the new two level mall – Provo Towne Center – opened in 1998, with its sparkling new JCPenney. 

Following JCPenney’s departure, Local officials and the media were concerned that University Mall would become a dead mall; however, University Mall saved face when Nordstrom stepped in and offered to replace the shuttered JCPenney.  The new Nordstrom store opened in 2002, and helped save University Mall from being lower-tier.  In addition, University Mall embarked on a multi-million dollar renovation and expansion, which debuted in 1998.  The expansion gave University Mall a new junior anchor, Sports Authority, and a new food court. 

In other anchor changes, the ZCMI store changed to Portland-based Meier and Frank in 2001, after the Mormons sold ZCMI to May Company in 1999 following a period of unprofitability.  May retained the ZCMI name until 2001, when all of the ZCMI stores were either converted to May’s Portland-based Meier and Frank nameplate or sold.  The store at University Mall operated as Meier and Frank until shortly after parent company May was sold to Macy’s in Febrary 2005.  Macy’s converted all of the May nameplates, including this store, to their Macy’s brand in Fall 2006.

Most recently, Mervyn’s closed at the end of 2008 when that chain went under, and an outdoor ‘lifestyle’ expansion recently debuted.  The Village at University Mall opened outside the mall, east of Sports Authority, in 2008.  Consisting of over 100,000 square feet of retail and entertainment space for 25 stores, the Village is anchored by a Cinemark theatre and allows patrons to shop outside and enjoy the beautiful mountain views and fresh air.  I have to wonder, though, how well the expansion was planned, because it doesn’t seem to really fit or flow cohesively with the extant enclosed mall.  I really think that if you’re going to play with fads like outdoor ‘lifestyle’ add-ons, develop a design to funnel foot traffic between the indoor and outdoor portions of the mall and form a spatial business model to support and emphasize its use.  This specific development encourages driving between the mall and its own lifestyle addition, and that’s kind of silly.  End rant.   

 

Today, University Mall competes head to head with Provo Towne Center, and even leans a bit more trendy and upscale than the latter with the presence of Nordstrom and other popular retailers.  Also, University Mall is slightly larger than Provo Towne Center, and slightly better positioned in the center of the Utah Valley adjacent to BYU and its thousands of consumer-students.  In contrast, Provo Towne Center’s major advantage is its direct access to Interstate 15, the major north-south corridor of the Wasatch Front.

The T-shaped University Mall is designed with what I’d call a ‘modern national park lodge flair’, similar to that of Park Meadows Mall in Denver (only much less dramatic), with exposed fieldstone, woodsy colors and dark brass fixtures.  I’m not sure if this happened in the 1998 remodel or a more recent one.  I visited the mall in July 2009 and took the pictures featured here.  The impressive mountains looming overhead and crisp blue skies that day almost made me wish the mall was an outdoor center – almost.  Feel free to leave your own comments and stories about University Mall.

25 Responses to “University Mall; Orem, Utah”

  1. Your rant about designing in new additions makes sense – the local mall here just added a lifestyle center, but it’s not attached to the mall or really near enough to comfortably walk. In addition this is in the Northwest, where it rains most of the year. This results in an addition that just doesn’t make sense.

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  2. Losing JCPenney and gaining Nordstrom is like having your KIA stolen right before you go to sleep and waking up the next morning to find a BMW in your driveway.

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  3. Kinda reminds me a bit of Memorial City Mall.

    Isn’t this the third University Mall on Labelscar?

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  4. Reminds me of a smaller version of Park Meadows, outside of Denver, espcially with the “ski lodge” motif.

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    SEAN Reply:

    @mallguy, I have sene pictures of the Pacific Place AMC 11-theatres in Seattle. Like this mall, the cinema has a similar design with a lodge feel.

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  5. Finally, a mall I’m actually familiar with (I have a brother in Provo, and have been here a number of times.) If I recall correctly, there was a pretty major flood caused by a broken water pipe back in 2008 or so, although as far as I can tell there were no long-term effects. University Mall is definitely a nicer mall than Provo Towne Center, and although it has taken some hits in the current recession, it’s done reasonably well in spite of that. The whole Provo/Orem area is actually a pretty interesting place from an urban archaeology perspective. Pretty much everywhere you go you’ll find all sorts of “Didn’t that used to be…?” places.

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  6. Was this a coincidence you posted a “University Mall” right after I did? LOL. I guess it’s one of those really common names like “Northgate Mall”. I have two of those on my blog.

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    Brian Lutz Reply:

    @JT,

    Crossroads is another name that seems to be popular for malls, although a lot of Crossroads Malls out there have run into various problems over the years. A quick web search shows at least seven Crossrosads located in Oklahoma City, Omaha Nebraska, Kalamazoo Michigan, Bellevue Washington, St. Cloud Minnesota, Waterloo Iowa and San Antonio Texas. Salt Lake City Utah used to have one too, but it was demolished several years ago as part of a major urban redevelopment plan in downtown Salt Lake.

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    Pseudo3D Reply:

    @Brian Lutz, don’t forget Roanoke VA and Colorado. The Nebraska one is old, but it’s running on empty. OKC one is on the verge of closure, I think.

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    Kyle Reply:

    @Brian Lutz, I call it the DE Development plan. I find Mom’s childhood home totally ruined. I am SO glad I visited there during a vacation in 2003 for Mom to see Family before the remodeled as now I have memories of the original.

    I even bought Lord Of The Rings 3 at the ZCMI mall when we were there.

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    Mike (From Louisiana) Reply:

    @JT, And Pensacola, Florida also had a University Mall. Hurricane Ivan ripped it apart in 2004, and I visited it one time in 2007. It was finally demolished a few years later (except for the anchor stores), now it’s small strip mall (as opposed to a lifestyle center) called University Towne Center.

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  7. Losing JCPenney and gaining Nordstrom is perhaps the best thing that could happen to this mall. The fact that there are two malls in the area gives shoppers more choices and convenience.

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  8. The fact that Nordstrom opened a store there says something about the Market.

    Nordstrom doesn’t have a store at nearly every mall unlike JC Penny, Macy’s & Sears. Each market that Nordstrom opperates have only a few stors each. Although San Francisco & L.A. do have a greater percentage of locations, the only cities with a fair amount of stores are Chicago & New York, with Miami & Atlanta catching up.

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    Jake Reply:

    @SEAN, Dallas also has a high number of locations, at least four at last count. I do agree that this shows that the market is very strong!

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    SEAN Reply:

    @Jake, Two questions. First, How many malls are there in the Metroplex? Second, have you checked out the quality of the store lineup at the malls that have Nordstrom? Galleria Dallas & Northpark for example.

    You will find better retailers at a center with Nordstrom, being one of what I call the Big 4. Neiman Marcus, Sacks Fith Avenue & Bloomingdale’s are the others.

    The more of the big 4 a mall has the better.

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    Brian Lutz Reply:

    @SEAN,

    All of the major malls in the Seattle area (Northgate, Southcenter, Alderwood. Bellevue Square and Tacoma Mall) have Nordstrom stores, plus the flagship store in downtown Seattle and Nordstrom Rack locations in several smaller malls. This is probably mostly because Nordstrom is based here, but they seem to do well around here (even if I can barely afford to walk into the door of a typical Nordstrom store.)

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    SEAN Reply:

    @Brian Lutz, I excluded Seattle because as you already said they are based there. In the New YorkCity area, Macy’s has over 50 locations without counting the stores aquired from May.

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  9. You didn’t note the strangest quirk about University Mall and the big competitive advantage for Provo Towne Center.

    University Mall is closed Sundays. Provo Towne Center operates normal mall hours on Sundays.

    When Mervyn’s was on the site, they were open Sundays. Nearby shopping plazas with “big box” retailers are as well.

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  10. Nordstrom came to University Mall 12 years ago but with dismal sales it will close March 2012.

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  11. Do you know of a food court type restaurant in University Mall in the ’70s? Foods from different cultures, but not national chains. I was very young then. I think it was called International Fair or Fare.

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  12. I grew up in Orem and still live in the neighboring area, so I am very familiar with the University Mall and its transformations over the years.

    The current “Mountain Lodge” style came from it’s 1998-2000 remodel. The south face saw the biggest facelift, with many new restaurants and storefronts added to the exterior of the building there. Previous to the remodel, all stores were only accesable from the inside (with the exception of the anchors) The exteroir of the north side of the structure did not get remodeled and still resembles it’s original 80’s facade, including the vaccant Mervyn’s.

    When I was born in ’82, the mall had already seen its first expantion when Mervyn’s was added. This doubled the retail space, converting the shape from an east-west “I” shape to an “L” shape with a new north-south corridor.
    I don’t know if the interior was remodeled duirng the expansion, or if they just continued the exsisting design down the new corridor, but as of the 80’s the whole structure matched in design. The exterior was all plain white brick with few features. Just long horizontal expanses with the occational aluminum & glass door entrance. The parking lots were baren with no trees that I can recall. They did have these very tall light posts, though. They had huge round fixtures with red tapered tops. They resembled retro-space-age Jetson homes. Many survived the late-90’s remodel for a while, replacing them one by one as they went defunct. There are now none left.

    The interior was, in my opinion, very dark and depressing remembering back. The ceilings were low (the same height as the still-existing side entrances like the one off the treehouse play area) and I don’t remember any skylights down the corridors. Dark browns dominated the decor. The flooring was dark brown cobblestone with a high-gloss finish. the corridors were lined with dated 3-arm lamp posts with tinted brown globes. There were large foyers with higher ceilings in front of the each anchor store. They had fountains framed in with brick bench sides. Potted plants decorated these areas. The fountains sprayed in a topiary-like cone shape with orange lights in the water shining up into the spray. The pools were always filled with tons of coins.

    I also remember a food court much smaller than the current one. My memory tells me it was on the south side of the mall off the original east-west corridor. It was filled with laminated booths and tables in yellows and oranges. Maybe a 7 or 8 ft. ceiling- very low. I wonder if it was privately owned, and not maintained by the mall itself. Near this food court was another short ceiling corridor off the main corridor. It was carpeted, maybe only 10 ft. wide, and had a few small stores, including a shaved ice place that I can remember, and an arcade. The end of the corridor exited to the south parking lot.

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    Kyle Reply:

    @JaWood, Thanks for sharing. Seriously that was a very neat story of you’re memories.

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  13. Does anybody know why malls no longer have McDonalds?

    Did Mcdonalds get sued or something and we didn’t know about it?

    Here in Salem Oregon both malls have had their McDonalds leave for no reasons and the McDonalds fast food ALWAYS had a line up of some sorts even during the in between hours.

    Heck even Wal Mart no longer has Mc Donalds. Instead either it’s Subway which does NOT cater towards families with kids or the cafeteria which there food is really iffy.

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    Mike (From Louisiana) Reply:

    @Kyle, There’s at least one mall that I know of that has a McDonald’s, and that’s at Bel Air Mall in Mobile, Alabama (I go to Bel Air Mall when I go on vacation out the Alabama/Florida Gulf Coast). But I don’t know if any other malls have them. Hope that helps! :)

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    SEAN Reply:

    @Kyle, There are plenty of malls that still have MCD’s – I guess it’s something with the local franchise in your area.

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