Business confident massive mall no threat

It drew a quarter-million people during its first five days of operation.

An aerial view of CrossIron Mills last Wednesday

It drew a quarter-million people during its first five days of operation.

But Central Albertans with a stake in the local retail sector say they’re not worried about consumer dollars flowing south to CrossIron Mills.

The 200-store mall opened north of Calgary, near Balzac, last Wednesday.

The first enclosed shopping centre to be built in Alberta in 20 years, its been attracting large crowds from Calgary and beyond.

James Moller, the general manager of CrossIron Mills, said much of the Ivanhoe Cambridge shopping centre’s marketing has focused on the immediate area. But this will change.

“We will start to push those messages out even farther.”

That promotional push will include Moller’s hometown of Red Deer.

It, and Medicine Hat and Lethbridge, are considered to be within CrossIron Mills’ trading area, he explained.

The shopping centre’s location off Hwy 2 should make it attractive to residents along the corridor, he said, with the travel time from south Red Deer just over an hour.

“We see that as a huge draw.”

Moller added that many of the stores in CrossIron Mills are the only one or the largest of their kind in Alberta.

“It’s not like it’s the same 200 stores you can find in Red Deer or Calgary or Medicine Hat. There is a lot of uniqueness to it.”

Brent MacKay, commercial manager with Qualico Developments West Ltd. — the company behind Red Deer’s Southpointe Common and the proposed Southpointe Junction power centres — agreed that CrossIron Mills boasts some unique shops, like outdoors superstore Bass Pro Shops.

But most of the goods and services in the mall can be found in Central Alberta, he said.

“Once the novelty and hype typically associated with any new mall opening starts to wane, retail sales in the Central Alberta markets will normalize again,” said MacKay, noting that this was the case when West Edmonton Mall opened.

Dan Hachey, manager of Red Deer’s Parkland Mall, also thinks the long-distance appeal of the new mega-mall will be temporary.

“I don’t believe it will have a long-term impact on us — it might during the honeymoon period of being a new opening.”

Hachey pointed out that sprawling power centre South Edmonton Common to the north doesn’t appear to have undermined sales at Parkland Mall.

Roxanne Kirton, Bower Place Shopping Centre’s assistant general manager, also expressed confidence that her mall and Red Deer’s broader retail sector is strong enough to go head-to-head with the new competitor to the south.

“A lot of what we offer here in Red Deer is very comparable to what CrossIron Mills has,” she said.

“When the dust settles and after CrossIron has been open for a while and some of the novelty has worn off, we feel that we’ll still be able to keep our numbers strong here.”

Debbie Packer, president of the Olds and District Chamber of Commerce, isn’t worried either.

She said many town residents live there because they prefer a small community, and in Olds they have access to a broad range of retailers, including big box stores.

“A lot of people, the reason they do their business here in Olds is because they want to avoid the QE2.”

Mike Axworthy, president of the Red Deer Chamber of Commerce, speculated that CrossIron Mills might even benefit the Central Alberta economy by attracting tourists.

Moller confirmed that his mall’s proximity to the Calgary International Airport wasn’t happenstance. And when its entertainment wing opens next year — with big box stores, a horse-racing track, hotels and a casino possibilities for the future — its appeal to travellers should increase.

hrichards@bprda.wpengine.com

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