The Glenn Square mall in Mountain View is a ghost town no more.
Ever since outdoor retailer Bass Pro Shops opened its doors last July, the mall's owner has snapped up a half-dozen new leases for long-empty storefronts. Parking spaces have become more scarce. Longer-term tenants say they're seeing noticeably more foot traffic.
Once a symbol of unmet promises, the invigorated mall is breathing new life into this pocket of Northeast Anchorage where the Glenn Highway turns into Fifth Avenue. Many attribute the seismic shift to a change in ownership and the strong new anchor store.
"Getting Bass Pro Shops in there was a big shot in the arm," said Bob Lincoln, head of Mountain View's neighborhood patrol.
In January 2011, about 100 people gathered at New Hope Baptist Church in Mountain View to discuss the mall's future. They asked why the mall was so empty. For neighborhood residents, many of whom weren't sold on the idea of the mall in the first place, the empty space signaled the kind of neglect Mountain View has been trying to put behind it.
Business and community leaders now say the mall is at last playing a role in the neighborhood's overall revitalization.
"We are excited to see the mall fill up," said Daniel George, president of the Mountain View Community Council. "It's something that has been wanted for a long time."
For a long time, Mountain View has struggled to shed a reputation for violence and attract new businesses. But in recent years, increased private investment has been "paving the way" to a fresh new face for the neighborhood, with the Glenn Square mall serving as one of the latest examples, said Kirk Rose, executive director of the Mountain View-based Anchorage Community Land Trust nonprofit.
Most recently, a Skechers shoe store and a men's health clinic opened at the mall. Soon, a furniture store will move in, said Leonard Hyde of JL Properties, the Anchorage-based commercial real estate firm that purchased the mall about a year ago.
A health club and military recruiting office are also new tenants, rounding out a mix of national and local retail. In September 2014, Kriner's Burgers and Pies opened, adding to a mix of food options that includes Xalos Mexican Grill, Yogurt Lounge and Eva's CupCakery. Another new restaurant, a Baked Alaska Alehouse, is under construction.
"It's been a fairly dramatic transformation," Hyde said in a recent phone interview. "Bass (Pro Shops) generates huge retail traffic, which has caused the other existing tenants' business to go up significantly."
Glenn Square opened in 2008 on what was once a polluted city-owned lot, which was cleaned up and sold to a private developer through the Anchorage Community Development Authority. Just before Bass Pro Shops opened, the national retail company that owned the mall, Kimco Realty Inc., sold it to JL Properties. Hyde said his firm was aware of the mall's visibility from the Glenn Highway, which sees a huge daily influx of traffic in and out of Anchorage.
At the time, the smaller shops were largely vacant, but Hyde said the firm has been "fairly aggressive" about leasing the spaces. Since the acquisition, JL Properties has signed leases with six new tenants, bringing the total number of tenants up to 17, said Levi Kincaid, senior project manager at the firm. Just three small spaces, about 1,000 square feet each, remain, Kincaid said.
Xalos owner and manager Arturo Martin was one of the "brave ones," as he put it, to sign a lease in the mall 2 1/2 years ago. He said he always had faith in the location.
"I knew a lot of people who said, 'You're crazy to go into that shopping center,'" Martin said. "I always thought it was going to be a good spot, (that) sooner or later, this is going to turn around."
Even before Bass Pro Shops opened, Martin said, his business was doing well. But he's seen "a good increase" in the past year. He also said the new local ownership has been more attentive. Xalos is now preparing to open a second location in South Anchorage.
Next to Xalos, Eva Perry owns Eva's CupCakery. Perry opened her shop in September 2011, fulfilling a longtime dream, but she said friends also questioned her decision to locate at the mall.
Sitting at a table in her store, Perry said her faith, rather than what people said, guided her. She remembered a bleak period two winters ago, while Bass Pro Shops was under construction and walk-ins were much less frequent.
But the shop hung on, and Perry said she's also seen increased foot traffic since Bass Pro Shops opened.
Many chalk up the mall's sluggish evolution to bad timing. A year before Glenn Square opened, a competing mall, Tikahtnu Commons, opened just down the highway. With a cineplex and high-powered national chains like Target, Tikahtnu turned out to be a big draw for retail tenants. Leasing at Glenn Square also wasn't helped by the recession afflicting the Lower 48.
The big promises surrounding the Glenn Square Mall included a 12-screen movie theater, a second story with housing units and hundreds of local jobs. The movie theater, advertised with fanfare in 2007 by former Mayor Mark Begich, has yet to materialize. Neither has a housing component to the mall, though Hyde pointed to the recent opening of a 70-unit apartment building down the street, built by Cook Inlet Housing Authority.
Sitting in a pew in the Bethel Chapel on a recent weekday afternoon, Pastor Robert Evans said he'd still like to see a movie theater in the mall. Evans had presented at the 2011 meeting at New Hope Baptist Church, which was organized by Anchorage Faith & Action Congregations Together.
But he was also all smiles.
"It panned out pretty good, we think," Evans said. "We had a lot of people at that (2011) meeting, and a lot of changes have happened."
Evans said the promised employment piece, in particular, seems to have come to fruition. The mall's owners didn't have exact figures, but Patrina Davis, board chair of AFACT, said the mall has brought more job opportunities to a lower-income neighborhood, giving people the chance to walk to work or catch just one bus.
Pat Nolde, general manager at Bass Pro Shops, said that the store has tried to hire locally.
Speaking on a Saturday afternoon, when the outside parking lot was packed, he said the location so far has turned out to be a good investment..
"We've had a lot of customers happy that we're on this side of town, because they live on this side," Nolde said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the name of the group that organized the 2011 church meeting. It was Anchorage Faith & Action Congregations Together, not Anchorage Faith and Congregations Together. The story also misstated the name of the group's board chair. Her name is Patrina Davis, not Katrina Davis.