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Business Q&A -- Al Densmore

Today marks the 15th anniversary of the Rogue Valley Mall. How big of an impact has it made on the Rogue Valley?

I think it has made a significant impact, though I am far from qualified to comment as an expert on retail business. When it was approved and built (in 1986), this community lacked a significant amount of shopping "choice," which was evidenced by competing developers wanting to build one. That problem has certainly been solved and perhaps oversolved in the past 15 years with the mall and subsequent developments. Our community is now perceived as a regional center for retail business and the mall was an important contributor to that taking place. In addition, I think the mall has certainly helped as a community gathering place for exercise in adverse weather and in educational/vocational promotion.

How did the mall ultimately alter local shopping habits?

There was the assumption that if the mall comes in that it would hurt local businesses. I think it's less about the mall's impact and more about the way business is conducted. The nature of business has changed. Locally owned anything is difficult.

I think it says less about the Rogue Valley Mall and more about how retail business is conducted and what consumers are demanding. Thirty years ago, we had strong local business people. The owner was involved in the community and you were willing to pay a little bit more because you valued that support. As things changed and there was more competition from the outside, that happened less.

Consumers value strong local businesses and the lowest possible prices. In effect, they're demanding something that's difficult to supply with locally-owned businesses. We would all like corner grocery stores, but with prices about the same as Safeway.

You were a proponent of enhancing downtown shopping - would a mall have worked downtown?

At the time, I don't think it would have, because of the difficulty in organizing downtown property owners with varying concerns and objectives into one common effort.

You were concerned about the site of the mall and its impact on future commercial development in the area. What is your assessment after the fact?

The issue for me was, where was the least disruptive place to put it? I think, on balance, I'm still comfortable that the mall is in an OK place. There are several different ways to get in and out. The whole Big Y interchange was a problem beforehand.

Where would you place the mall today if you could put it elsewhere and why?

In a perfect world, I would have preferred to have those shopping opportunities downtown because I think a city, like a person, needs a strong heart. That development would have fit nicely with the Craterian redevelopment and the enhancement of Bear Creek and its corridor.

What are the similarities of what you had in mind for downtown with what is going on under urban development?

I strongly support the efforts of the urban renewal agency. I just wish the City Council had said "yes" when I asked them to create the agency in the late 1970s. By the time it happened, state laws had changed significantly.

Those legal changes have made it more difficult to finance the public improvements that encourage private development.

How does the Greenway project fit in with local commerce?

I believe the Bear Creek Greenway and the efforts of the cities along its corridor to provide parks and other complementary amenities will help create a special sense of place and community in our valley that will encourage local commerce. Having an 18-mile path and natural corridor through the center of the county's population will soften our urban landscape and be a source of physical and mental renewal for ourselves and our visitors daily.

To suggest a subject for this column, please contact business reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail