ELK GROVE -- It has been 10 years since construction stopped on Elk Grove’s infamous "ghost mall" on Highway 99 near Grant Line Road. It was due to open in the fall of this year -- until it wasn’t.
"It’s never going to happen, honestly," said resident Randy Vasquez. "It’s been up there for years. I think it’s never going to happen."
Who can blame the doubters after the skeleton of the mall has stood untouched since the original developers went bankrupt in the midst of the Great Recession 10 years ago?
The Howard Hughes Corporation has since developed several malls on the property it acquired in bankruptcy but the Elk Grove ghost mall is not one of them. The city has taken some heat for letting it languish, although it’s beyond their control.
"The city doesn’t own the land or the buildings. Howard Hughes, the developer, owns the project," said Rachel Brown, manager of the city's Economic Development Department. "We've worked with them actually to extend their permits a few times as they've reconsidered what the project might look like. We can’t do anymore."
Initially, the Howard Hughes Corporation said it was pursuing leasing deals with the likes of Nike, American Eagle Outfitters, Victoria's Secret and Columbia Sportswear.
It needs to prelease half of its 600,000 square feet to begin construction but it’s clear they haven’t reached that goal, although the corporation says leasing efforts are ongoing.
"It’s just an eyesore," said area resident Lori Zanardi.
Residents like Zanardi, who have had to stare at the property, have mixed feelings.
The Howard Hughes Corporation sold 35 acres on the north end of the project for a controversial casino project. Zanardi thinks shopping malls and the kids they draw are not compatible with gambling.
"I would like some stores down here but I definitely don’t want the casino down here," Zanardi said.
Which may add to the confusion about what direction the mall is headed.
"We feel that the casino is a little bit of an unknown for Howard Hughes," Brown said. "It hasn’t moved forward yet. I think once it does then I think Howard Hughes is going to have a little more information to help define its project and move forward."
Over the years, the mall plans have changed, dictated by different marketing and retail trends. The company also has to deal with structures that are already built, limiting their flexibility.
But a mall and casino on the site will be a boost to nearby businesses, as well as the tax base for the city.
The latest target date for opening is the fall of 2020, but opening dates have been missed before. The casino has a target date for 2021 and the two projects may very well be closely tied together.