Mitch Glaser's Commentary

Posted April 24, 2007 (user submitted)

Scottsdale Galleria represents the "irrational exuberance" of Phoenix real estate development in the 1980's. It was an ill-concieved project that ended up being a major embarassment and a "white elephant" in an otherwise healthy Downtown Scottsdale.

The Galleria had no anchors, and that is the main reason it failed. The developers believed that the mall could thrive without anchors, as it was focused on high-end luxury boutiques. The mall did have a food court, some restaurants, and a Cineplex Odeon multiplex (the first, and last, in Phoenix). The developers also promised future improvements such as a "walk-through" aquarium but never delievered on them.

I. Magnin had considered moving to the Galleria, but the owners of Biltmore Fashion Park convinced it to stay by building it a larger store. As we know, I. Magnin was only a couple of years from folding anyway, so its presence may not have helped the Galleria.

There were already two malls about a half-mile from the Galleria: Scottsdale Fashion Square and Camelview Plaza. At the time, Fashion Square was anchored by Robinson's (converted from Goldwaters in 1989) and an expanded Dillard's and was undergoing a major expansion that would connect it to Camelview Plaza through a bridge over Goldwater Boulevard. Camelview Plaza was anchored by Bullock's, with Neiman Marcus soon to open in a space occupied by Sakowitz, then Dillard's.

The Galleria couldn't compete with this mega-mall. Fashion Square continued to expand, eventually buying Camelview Plaza and converting it into the biggest Dillard's in the country (Bullock's had left Phoenix). The existing Dillard's became Sears, then Macy's. A second major expansion was completed in 1998, with a bridge over Camelback Road that connected to Arizona's first Nordstrom. Fashion Square is now the largest mall in Arizona, with plans to further expand by demolishing the shuttered Robinsons-May and building a new wing that will include Barneys New York.

The Galleria's design presented problems. Its main component was a large four-story atrium, but it also had a small, awkward wing that connected to the multiplex through a bridge over Civic Center (now Drinkwater) Boulevard. It was also difficult to access parking; a ramp into the garage directly from Scottsdale Road impeded traffic flow. Although the mall was located in Downtown Scottsdale, a pedestrian-friendly area, most of its exterior was bland and uninviting.

Timing couldn't have been worse for the Galleria. In 1990, a recession had already taken hold, and there was less demand for high- end luxury boutiques, even in ritzy Scottsdale. I believe the mall may have had occupany in the 60% range upon opening, but it quickly fell and new tenants just weren't interested. I'm not sure when the mall closed for good, but I think it was within 2 years (the multiplex stayed open). This story is somewhat similar to the Forest Fair story in Cincinnati.

I visited the Galleria several times and remember it being quite nice, as posh as one would expect an ultra-upscale mall to be. But I also remember the lack of stores (and customers).

A few years later, a developer proposed converting the Galleria into "Scottsdale Sportsplex," a themed mall totally dedicated to athletic goods. AMC Theatres, which had taken over the multiplex from Cineplex Odeon, was to build a 20+ screen "megaplex" on the top level. This plan fizzled, and AMC shut down its location.

Eventually, the Galleria became an office center. However, it continues to stand out in Downtown Scottsdale and remind folks of the awesome failure of this mall.

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