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Our Opinion: Excitement is building

June 22, 2002

The proposed mall project expected to be built in southeast El Centro as early as 2004 continues to spark an interest and there is talk such major department stores as Robinsons-May and Dillard's will be anchors of the mall.

This good news should inspire residents from all over Imperial County to support the project. A mall of this size and caliber would benefit the entire county and beyond through job creation and economic development. We look forward to seeing the project take shape.

The proposed mall, however, has raised concerns, particularly among some in El Centro, that the project could harm other businesses and shopping areas as some of the department stores already housed in El Centro might move to the new mall. That is a concern. El Centro already has several "big box" buildings that are vacant, doing little but gathering dust and graffiti. Valley Plaza Shopping Center, which has some flourishing businesses, has too many vacancies. A mall might cause even more in that shopping center, particularly since JCPenney Co., a cornerstone of Valley Plaza, is rumored to be considering the move to the new mall.

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But progress cannot nor should not be stopped, and if a developer believes the Valley is ready to support a mall, that developer should have a chance to build the project.

That is where the City Council and city staffers must come in and do their job as city leaders. The council and its staff must prepare for the possible impacts a mall would have on other businesses and be ready to address that long before the mall becomes a reality.

We have to believe that as conditions improve throughout the county with new businesses and new residents moving in, it is possible to have a vibrant mall and a vibrant business sector apart from the mall. It might take time, but El Centro should be able to attract businesses to fill the empty spots along Imperial Avenue and Fourth Street— especially as we consider other projects in the works for Highway 86, which becomes Imperial Avenue in the north end of town.

This will be a challenge and take time to be addressed. But there is no doubt in our minds this mall would be beneficial to the Imperial Valley.

At the same time we don't want to see other sections of the city ignored, particularly areas where businesses have existed for years. There is no reason any business has to shut its doors because of competition from the proposed mall.

The El Centro City Council and the El Centro Chamber of Commerce and Visitors' Bureau are growth-minded. There are good people in leadership who can take us through the transition when the mall comes to fruition.

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