Foothills Mall Redevelopment to Include Hotel, Stores, Public Market
By Dave Perry
From the mostly demolished retail hub that was once the bustling Foothills Mall will soon rise Uptown, a reimagined new development which local developer Don Bourn says is unlike anything the region has seen.
Uptown will be a hyper-modern, densely built, mixed-use development with “elevated living” residences, boutique hotels, “upbeat” entertainment, “curated cuisine,” “uplifting” office and co-working spaces, health and wellness venues and “vibrant” retailers, said Bourn, owner of Bourn Companies, developer of the massive new project.
The new site will include 175,000 square feet of public space with a palm-lined promenade, performance venues and places to gather.
“We’re building it for today and tomorrow, as opposed to a half-century ago,” Bourn said. “There is nothing like this in Tucson.” For it to succeed, “every piece has to fit together like a puzzle or a Rubik’s Cube.”
Selective destruction of the mall’s 41-year-old core is “effectively concluded,” said Dillon Walker, Bourn Companies’ marketing director.
By mid-July, crews from Chasse Building Team had wiped away more than 350,000 square feet of buildings from the northwest corner of Ina Road and La Cholla. That’s 65% of what was once a 51-acre Saltillo-tiled spread of retail, restaurant and entertainment businesses that lost its magic amid retail upheaval.
To fully reimagine a mall, “you have to let it die all the way,” said Walker.
“If you think about the malls built across this country, that’s really a half-a-century old business model,” said Bourn, whose namesake company has operated in Tucson for more than 30 years. “They’re such major investments. It’s hard to modify them significantly to bring that format up to date.”
Phase 1 of Uptown begins this fall. With an investment nearing $400 million, Bourn Companies plans to build a five-story, 157-unit apartment community above ground-floor retail, and a 150-door hotel − up to seven stories − with the possibility of penthouse suites above. Associated retail follows. When Phase 1 concludes, Uptown should have 350 apartments, 230 hotel rooms, 425,000 square feet of retail space, 10 food and beverage concepts, and a public market in the space now occupied by Barnes & Noble.
At full build-out, Uptown scales to 1,000 apartments, a half-million square feet of retail, six unique outdoor environments, 25 food and drink establishments, and more than 500 hotel rooms. Total investment could approach $1 billion. Pima County has granted permission for buildings up to 10 stories.
“Retail really benefits from a heavy amount of onsite, built-in traffic, from hotels, residents and offices that are using the restaurants and retail on a daily basis,” Bourn said. “That’s where people want to go.”
“We wouldn’t do this if we didn’t believe strongly in the market,” Walker said. “It’s a 30-minute drive from 750,000 people.” Bourn thinks guests from Mexico and beyond will visit Tucson to experience Uptown. He regularly asks his team, “How do we make this project attractive to that spectrum of people, all the locals and visitors?”
How? By creating something “so different, unlike anything else you can find in the city,” Walker said. “This is the opposite of cookie-cutter.”
Currently, three buildings are standing. The North Shops have been refaced, remodeled and re-occupied by longtime dining favorites Pappoule’s and Sushi Garden, along with Bath & Body Works, FedEx, Game Stop and VN Nails.
AMC Theaters modernized its 75,000-square-foot complex before the pandemic, and will be a destination for pedestrians walking in lovely open space past restaurants, art, and small-scale retail. Barnes & Noble has been invited to relocate from its current 40,000-square foot, two-story location to a future smaller space.
The existing Barnes & Noble space would become a public market with “stall-based infrastructure for local and national tenants” occupying spaces from 144 to 700 square feet, Walker said. Guests might find chocolates, clothes, flowers, gifts, national “micro-retail” stores, and food. “It’ll be fixed, but flexible,” said Jean Espinosa, who works on Bourn Companies’ development and deal making team.
“For local businesses, unfortunately, the commercial real estate world has become so expensive, and so inflexible, and so fragmented, that the value proposition has become real challenging,” Bourn said. “We will create very, very small spaces, with a lot of foot traffic in a very intense space.
“And we’ll drive that traffic” with marketing, entertainment and the appeal of common areas, Bourn said. That way, merchants can be seen and benefit by the sheer scale.
Uptown is being built “in today’s world, with the latest and greatest components,” Bourn said. “We’re being very intentional about how design impacts environment, and people’s sense of wanting to be there.”
Uptown is at once a trip into the future and a look back for Bourn Companies, which once owned Foothills Mall, revitalized it for a 20-year run, then sold it. It was reacquired in 2018.
“You don’t normally think you’d be redeveloping this and tearing this down,” Bourn said. But it’s happening. And soon, Uptown will start to rise.