Like a desert mirage, Tempe Marketplace has slowly materialized where blight and sprawl once dominated the landscape. The $270 million shopping and entertainment complex officially opens for business Friday.
But customers have already begun descending on the 1.3 million-square-foot center. About 75 of its 120 stores are already open for business, but a handful of businesses will time their openings with the rest of the center, including the Gap and Aéropostale.
Officials at Vestar Development Co., which owns the center, said they had no problem attracting tenants to the glitzy open-air shopping complex.
“Honestly, it’s happened quicker than we had anticipated,” said David Larcher, executive vice president for Vestar.
Tempe Marketplace is one of only two major outdoor retail centers of its kind in the area, and, according to city officials, it abuts the state’s second busiest freeway interchange — loops 101 and 202.
Valley retail analyst Bob Kammrath said although Tempe Marketplace is a mere mile from Mesa Riverview — a similar open-air shopping center coming alive at the interchange — the two won’t compete for the same customers.
The centers have similar retail offerings.
Both have big-box discount retail stores and movie theater complexes.
However, Riverview and Tempe Marketplace offer different brands, Kammrath said. For example, Mesa Riverview has Wal-Mart while Tempe Marketplace has Target.
“The long and short of it is I’ve never driven by a Wal-Mart with an empty parking lot,” he said.
Riverview developer Marty De Rito pointed out other differences between the two complexes, including the fact that Riverview will have auto dealerships and hotels.
He said the confluence of the two freeways will bode well for both developments. He added that both centers have unique aspects and should complement each other well.
“The more successful they are will make us more successful and vice-versa,” he said.
Tempe Marketplace, which represents about 10 years of planning for the city, was a massive undertaking. Not only did Vestar build it at breakneck speed — the fastest rollout of a retail center in Arizona history, according to the developer — the area required a huge cleanup effort.
The former industrial-zoned land hosted a hodgepodge of 96 different businesses and had extensive toxic contamination including PCB contamination.
Officials with Vestar said it was the most complicated cleanup in state history, costing somewhere between $40 million and $50 million.
Larcher said he considers Tempe Marketplace one of Vestar’s “crown jewels” and the largest project undertaken by the company.
It’s also the largest project completed in Arizona in the past six years, he said.
The center will trigger a revitalization of the entire area near the dry Salt River bed and facilitate around 4,500 permanent jobs, Larcher said. Sheri Wakefield-Saenz, deputy community development manager, said retail offerings at the Tempe Marketplace will nicely complement the bustling downtown Tempe area on Mill Avenue as well as the hotels, condos and apartment complexes rising around Tempe Town Lake.