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Is a revival near for Linda's Peach Tree Mall?
After more than a quarter century as an unavoidable reminder of Yuba County's 1986 flood, or more recently, the county's tough economic times, Peach Tree Mall in Linda could thrive again.
In recent months, county planning officials said they've received several inquiries from people interested in investing in the mall, now known as Feather River Center but largely empty apart from a FoodMaxx grocery store at one end.
Kevin Mallen, director of the county's Community Development and Services Agency, said the inquiries have not yet translated into an actual development proposal. But it's the most interest anyone has had in the mall since the end of the economic boom a half-decade ago.
"We're seeing that across the board," he said of interest in new construction, both commercial and residential.
John Fleming, Yuba County's economic development coordinator, said there is a case to be made for Peach Tree's return as being somewhat overdue.
For residents in newer neighborhoods like Edgewater and Plumas Lake, retail didn't keep pace with the new homes built in the last decade, he said.
"Whenever you have a growing residential population, you have growing demand for goods and services," he said.
Because the county's new residents don't have much in nearby shopping, the county has sales tax leakage totaling hundreds of millions of dollars annually, he said.
If Peach Tree were developed again, he said, some of the leakage could be stopped.
And it's not like the mall doesn't have some advantages: Visibility and lots of traffic from North Beale Road and Highway 70, thousands of acres of parking and, if it was used for retail again, no new fees for entitlements such as sewer and water service, Fleming and Mallen said.
But the seriousness of the interest in the mall is tough to gauge.
While Yuba County Supervisor Andy Vasquez, who represents Linda, said he has heard the site could be sold soon, Peach Tree's real estate company, a Sacramento-area firm, didn't respond to inquiries about its status.
Shoppers at the FoodMaxx, though, said they can remember when the mall was an area hub and would love to see it return to such status.
"My grandma used to bring me down here," said Valerie Smith, 39, of Edgewater.
She recalled the movie theater, JCPenney store, and other long-gone mall features when they were thriving.
"Living out here, you have to go so far to get much," she said. "It would be great if they did something."
Mall may be hard to raze
If and when an announcement comes on a new development at Peach Tree Mall, a wrecking ball might not be far behind.
Built in the early 1970s, the mall has experienced both a devastating flood and long vacancies. And as fashions and popular stores change, so does what is considered modern and attractive in a shopping center design.
But demolishing much of what is left of the mall now known as the Feather River Center isn't as simple as showing up one morning with a bulldozer.
Because of its age, the building probably has asbestos and other toxic compounds that would need abatement during demolition, said John Fleming, Yuba County's economic development coordinator.
A developer wouldn't need to pay new fees if the center was kept for retail, according to Kevin Mallen, Yuba County Community Development and Services Agency manager. But demolition would cost an estimated $1 million before any new stores are even built.
And there's the issue of the handful of tenants, most notably Food Maxx, which occupies the mall's south end. If the building is demolished, there would likely be disruption for the stores still there.
Fleming said the store, owned by Save Mart, also has a lease preventing another store selling grocery items from moving into the center.
That means home improvement or clothing stories would be OK, but others, such as Target or Costco, would not. An official with Save Mart said by email the company would welcome more retail stores in the center but couldn't comment on demolition or other changes.
The Yuba County supervisor whose district includes the mall said there is another issue neither the county nor a potential developer can do much about.
"It all depends on the economy of the state," said Andy Vasquez. "If it expands, I know a lot of people would like to see something happen."
Vasquez said there is reason to be optimistic. A recent announcement of a glove manufacturer moving into the county is a good sign the local economy is headed in the right direction, he said.
"Jobs will solve 90 percent of our problems," he said.
Peach Tree Mall chronology
1972: Mall opens with JCPenney as the anchor tenant and 28 other stores, including Safeway, Arthur's Department Store and Orange Julius. Original name is just "The Mall."
1980: Mall, since renamed Peach Tree Mall, has 52 stores with plans for 18 more, on a total of 218,703 square feet.
1986: A Yuba River levee bursts nearby, flooding the mall and closing it for months. At the time, the mall is about half occupied, and JCPenney and Kmart officials soon announce their stores won't reopen.
1989: Some anchor stores open for what will become the Yuba Sutter Mall in Yuba City.
1990: Yuba County's Department of Social Services announces plans to move into the mall.
1992: Food 4 Less, which eventually becomes FoodMaxx, announces plans to move into Peach Tree under a 20-year lease.
1999: Mall renamed Feather River Center, after briefly being called the Sutter Buttes Center, when a new owner takes over.
2000: Upset over lease rates there, some Yuba County supervisors discuss buying the mall.
2007: Yuba County vacates its offices at the mall for new buildings on nearby Packard Avenue. County officials say they're getting interest in the site from big-box retailers, but area's floodplain status makes it difficult.
2013: With the region emerging from a severe economic downturn, county officials again say they're hearing interest in the mall, now owned by a group called Feather River LLC.