Nineteen of the 33 store lots at the Oro Valley Marketplace are empty, and a new one is clearing out soon. Dick’s Sporting Goods in set to close its Oro Valley location on Sept. 12, with plans to relocate to the Tucson Mall.
“Dick’s will leave a 45,000-square-foot retail hole in the Oracle and Tangerine center, which already has too many vacant storefronts.” said Oro Valley Chamber of Commerce President Dave Perry in a recent newsletter. “Our Chamber believes empty glass is a threat to any community. It tends to spread… Reactions to the Dick’s closing range from surprise to shrugged acceptance.”
The store location, at 11935 N. Oracle Road, is one of several large stores at the OV Marketplace, owned by Vestar Properties, surrounded by smaller, empty lots.
According to the Town of Oro Valley website, a major part of the issue is a lack of population density in the surrounding area: “the average population for other Vestar properties in Arizona is 41,739 people per square mile. At the Marketplace, the density is only 18,547.”
“Whenever you have a great organization like Dick’s Sporting Goods, you hate to lose them,” said Oro Valley’s new director of community and economic development, J.J. Johnston. “It’s a loss for the community and we’re obviously concerned about the Oro Valley Marketplace.”
Johnston said town employees are currently meeting with business leaders to discuss new plans for filling the empty buildings in Oro Valley, this includes speaking with the stores like Walmart, Best Buy and Big Lots about updating and renewing their leases at the OV Marketplace.
“Every community has empty buildings,” Johnston said. “So we’re taking a deep dive into new ideas, we’re all about expanding and diversifying our workforce.”
One of these new ideas for the marketplace involves “alternative uses” for the empty lots.
“You’re seeing a lot of big box retailers moving or closing these days,” Johnston said. “There are more empty spaces and parking lots. So now you need to take a more holistic approach to the empty buildings.”
These alternative uses for mall space involve transitioning empty lots to museums, arts and culture draws, recreation or technology spaces. While Oro Valley has not officially announced any of these alternative use plans for the marketplace, each is a source of discussion.
Johnston, in-part, attributes these empty space woes to the “Amazon Effect” of modern shopping.
“If you were to look at satellite images of Black Friday crowds from 2017, versus 2016 or 2015, you’ll see less people and less cars.” Johnston said. “We are updating our overall strategy to respond to the Amazon Effect.”
When at a recent business function, Perry saw a speaker ask the audience ‘how many of you are Amazon Prime members?’ Roughly 90 percent of the audience raised their hands.
“That’s a big concern to me,” Perry said. “Brick and mortar stores are changing and it’s a challenge to fill spaces as large as Dick’s Sporting Goods. We don’t notice the effect specifically at the marketplace, but everywhere.”
An additional difficulty from Dick’s Sporting Goods leaving the Marketplace is the fact Oro Valley does not levy a property tax, making sales taxes carry even more financial weight for the town.
“Oro Valley relies on sales tax to operate fifty percent of our government,” Perry said.
Vestar Property said its primary focus is still as a retailer, however alternative uses are also being considered. Their leasing team is currently working to rent out spaces.
“We’re at the micro-level,” Perry said. “We’re constantly trying to support local businesses and trying to do the best we can. When the town grows, the town thrives.”
The Dick’s Sporting Goods location in the Tucson Mall is planned to open on Sept. 12, the very same day the Oro Valley location closes.