Orem has never had a central downtown like other cities, but that’s about to change with the University Mall expansion plan. The University Mall’s owner, Woodbury Corporation, plans to convert it into the University Place, a central hub similar to the City Creek shopping center in downtown Salt Lake City.
“We think it’s going to spur economic development in the whole center of Utah County with the two universities,” said Kathy Olson, Woodbury Corporation’s director of development. “I think this is going to be a great thing for Utah County.”
Project managers and designers are hopeful that University Place will bring a stronger, united feel to Orem.
“I think we’re actually most excited about the park,” Olson said. “We want to program it so that it just turns into a central gathering place for everybody in the city of Orem.”
City coordinators are excited to spur economic growth by bringing in traffic to Orem and its surrounding cities. Phase one of the 10-year project began in April, and developers estimate they will finish by 2023. However, the project will progress in accordance with supply and demand.
“Phasing and construction is dependent on market conditions,” said Ryan Clark, Orem City economic development manager. “Woodbury will not move forward with additional residential units unless market demand exists. On the other hand, if market conditions are ripe for the picking, components may be accelerated.”
Woodbury has designed a 35,000-square-foot park for the center of University Place. The park will include a stage, playground and ice skating rink. Other features of the finished product will include residential space, office and retail space, restaurants, apartments and hotels.
“One of the most exciting things is that young professionals will be able to live, work and play without leaving University Place,” Clark said.
The goal of the University Mall expansion project is to give back to the community, according to developers, but not everyone is excited about the new plan. Standing for Orem, a community-based organization made up of concerned citizens, represents the views of the mall’s neighbors.
“It’s going to negatively impact the values of property surrounding the mall,” said Arturo Morales, chairman of Standing for Orem. “We don’t oppose growth. Our opposition was that they … rezoned the entire acreage of the project; we were more in favor of rezoning by basis, that we would be able to see the impact of traffic.”
Members of Standing for Orem worry the increased traffic will lead to congested roadways, limited parking and loud noises. They’re also concerned about tall office buildings being so close to their homes. The rezoning of the area allows developers to construct buildings twice as high as before, up to 190 feet.
Woodbury, however, expects it won’t be necessary to widen University Parkway to accommodate increased traffic.
“If you think about the office buildings up in Lehi, if anybody wants to go to lunch they have to drive to a restaurant, or if they want to go to a pharmacy they have to drive to the pharmacy,” Olson said. “In our case, they’ll be able to walk. They’ll be able to walk to daycare, walk to buy birthday presents, walk to the movies.”
The project will be a catalyst for keeping existing jobs and introducing new ones to Orem residents. It will allow large companies the amount of space needed to bring their corporate campuses back to Orem. University Place is setting itself up for success, located between two universities and visible from one of the busiest intersections in the state.
“This project is going to create a buzz that’s been gone for some time,” Clark said. “I’m confident that it’s going to put Orem back on the map.”