Twin Peaks Mall: Silence unlikely to be golden

Twin Peaks Mall - photo by Duane Leise

At the close of Tuesday’s city council meeting, Council Member Gabe Santos requested that City Manager Gordon Pedrow and Director of Economic Development Brad Power contact Panattoni, owner of Twin Peaks Mall, to determine the status of the Mall.

He indicated that he and other council members receive many emails and calls asking, “What’s happening with the Mall?”  Clearly, all in Longmont have concerns.  Historically, the Mall has been a primary source of city revenues through the sales taxes that it has generated.  The neglect of the mall, by the previous and the current owners, and the state of the economy have caused the mall to decline.

Almost before Santos finished his comments, Mayor Bryan Baum interrupted to explain that both he and Power had attempted to contact Panattoni on Monday and “have not had the courtesy of a return call.”  They did, however, identify the party who would be able to answer their questions.

City Manager Pedrow followed up with a phone call to Panattoni’s CEO, and he, too, has failed to return the City of Longmont’s call.   Perhaps the corporation needs to be sure that they all have the same story to tell in response to Longmont’s inquiries—and just how much of it to tell.

Santos then requested that if no word is heard within a week, a letter be written to Panattoni from Longmont’s Mayor and City council insisting that the city receive “something in writing that addresses our concerns.”

I, of course, have no tea leaves to read, but I do have corporate background in Public Relations and in human behavior.  The silence from Panattoni is very disturbing.

People and companies usually are motivated to publicize good news and reluctant to share news that reflects poorly on the organization or could impede its objectives.  This leads one to believe that they haven’t yet secured an investor to meet the terms for refinancing the debt Panattoni assumed on the mall.

The City of Longmont has a long history of giving development virtually anything it wants.   I have long wondered what unofficial promises were made in 2007 by the Pirnack administration to encourage Panattoni to purchase Twin Peaks Mall.  As they say in the gambling industry – “on the come”.

The previous majority along with Mayor Roger Lange had well-founded concerns about the nature of the Mall’s future development and the degree of financial involvement in this public-private partnership.  Their diligence served the community well, especially considering the financial meltdown that arrived in 2008.

The Mall became the political hammer used by the current council majority to win the November 2009 election.  Either these new members were extremely naive or they were fully aware of the unlikelihood of development in the near future and found this issue useful to attack their opponents regardless of the facts.

Had Longmont rushed into this partnership early, the damage to the city’s overall financial situation would have been critical.

Bond ratings are critical to municipalities.  They are important both to our ability to bond and to do so at favorable interest rates.  And reduced sales tax revenues that result from Tax Increment Financing over 20-25 years if projections are not realized may also be a gamble.  In the situation Longmont finds itself, this is almost assured.  Although there has been some up tick in retails sales, that by no means indicates that there is a market for new or redeveloped commercial retail.

The citizens of Longmont need open and honest information.  Political spin will not suffice, either from Panattoni or from the Mayor or city council members or from the city’s administration.

Will Panattoni default on its debt?  Will the mall be purchased at a fire sale?  Will a new buyer sit on the property as is until the market for redevelopment makes economic sense?  Will any future buyer prey on the community’s desire to have a healthy and prosperous mall to negotiate financial conditions for themselves at the expense of Longmont’s many obligations and needs?

Members of the Longmont community must recognize that Twin Peaks Mall is indeed private property.   Members of our community have no control over what businesses, anchors or otherwise, choose to locate in the Mall.  Potential businesses operate according to their own business models.  If the demographics and location do not follow those models and make financial sense, no forceful demands or pleadings will make any difference whatsoever.  Just because we want something doesn’t mean that we can have it.

Because of the uncertainty in commercial retail and the uncertain future over business financing, no one in Longmont should expect redevelopment anytime soon.  That’s hard to hear, but it’s the reality.

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