The Shops at Riverwoods was one of four retail centers represented at the economic development meeting on Thursday morning. (Photo courtesy Shops at Riverwoods)

In a collaborative effort, the Provo City Council met with operators representing four of Provo’s largest retail centers to discuss how they can get new retail companies in the city. And the operators gave the council a lot to think about.

“I think this city can do better at reviewing development applications,” said Provo city councilman Dave Harding. “It’s something that we’ve been working on but it’s good to hear the experiences of those that are out in the field.”

Representatives from downtown Provo, Shops at Riverwoods, The Mix and Provo Towne Centre expressed their grievances to the council about roadblocks they’ve encountered while trying to bring new retail stores to Provo. All four operators agreed that the city needs to develop a more efficient way for speeding up the building approval process.

“From a timing perspective, one of the things we get caught on is the permitting process,” said JJ Haering, director of leasing at the Shops at Riverwoods.

Mark Isaac, the representative for Westport Capital Partners which owns The Mix, agreed. For example, his company submitted an application to Provo in February 2016 and still hasn’t received approval. In contrast, an application he submitted to Salt Lake City in February 2017 has already gone through and the development is under construction.

“There is more money looking to come into Utah than I can ever remember and it’s because of what you have here,” Isaac said. “The cities that are aggressive and strike when (potential new businesses are) there are the ones that get their attention. And man, they go like a bonfire.”

The Mix, which will be located in the old Plumtree Shopping Center on University Parkway, already has nine letters of intent out of 13 available places in its complex, but Isaac doesn’t see The Mix opening until fall 2018, a year later than planned.

“The cities that are aggressive and strike when (potential new businesses are) there are the ones that get their attention. And man, they go like a bonfire.” — Mark Isaac, The Mix

“We know it’s going to be great, but I can’t tell anybody when we can start because I’m not finished with the government service yet,” Isaac said.

Scott Bowles, general manager of Provo Town Centre, has seen similar difficulties, resulting in lost business.

“Time kills all deals,” Bowles said. “When Mark says, you have a window of time he’s absolutely right. When you’re talking about the real estate site selection process, that is a very difficult stressful time because it seems a little obtuse.”

Downtown Provo Quinn Peterson backed both Bowles and Isaac’s plea for the city to make quicker decisions.

“I think there is a lot of internal communication that could improve so this could all be expedited,” Peterson said.

In the forum, Provo City Council members mainly listened and asked clarifying questions about how the city could better work with private companies, which included pinpointing part of the reason for the slow-moving approval process.

Part of the problem is the city has never gone through the redevelopment process before. The process for approval moves quicker for businesses building on new lots of land, but for developments like The Mix that need to remove buildings or renovate, the process has taken more time.

“The positive thing is the city is now in a position to redevelop, reengage, reinvest and make what they have in the community better,” Isaac said. “The coolest part about that for the city is it’s because your infrastructure is already established in place and will support.”

While council members expressed gratitude for the insight from these retailers, Provo City Council emphasized that the private sector is only one group of voices the city hears. Harding reminded the group that there are multiple perspectives on the retail issue.

“If you’re going to look at it holistically, we need to look at ways to provide value without necessarily just undercutting everyone else,” Harding said. “I think the region as a whole will do better if we look for ways to cooperate, but provide real values and real opportunities to retailers.”

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