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Happy 50th to the 'unbuildable' Crossroads

By Gena Hiemenz, St. Cloud Times, Minn.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Aug. 30--The first shovelful of dirt was turned on Crossroads Center 50 years ago this September.

Area residents had their doubts when work began in the huge peat bog where slough grass and cattails thrived. The location between St. Cloud and Waite Park was ideal, but the site was considered "no man's land" and "unbuildable." The consensus was that no one would be able to build even a small structure on it.

Land developers had been eyeing the property since the mid-1950s. First, it was going to be a food store. But years passed, and nothing was done. Later, another developer looked at it for a possible retail complex. Again, nothing.

Rumors ramped up in the early 1960s. More developers came, but nothing would be built. All of that would change in spring 1964.

An investigation by a Minneapolis development firm called Crossroads Center began. Soil samples proved that a large shopping center could be built. However, 300,000 cubic yards of peat would have to be replaced.

Workers from Landwehr Construction began excavation in September. Soon, the Fischer family who lived across U.S. Highway 52, now known as Division Street, watched as truckloads of crushed granite were hauled from nearby quarries to the 40-acre site and dumped into the swamp.

Sears would be the first retail store announced as part of the new enterprise, which developers said would include "two large department stores, an 18,000-square-foot supermarket, a drug store, 25,000-square-foot variety store, and men's, women's and children's apparel stores."

Off-street parking would be provided for more than 3,000 cars and the enclosed mall would be "air-conditioned and heated for a uniform 72-degree year-round temperature."

However, once construction began, the viability of the center was questioned: Were the retail spaces too far apart? Was the shopping center too far from downtown? How would the developers ever fill the retail spaces? And who would shop there?

By February 1965, six major retailers were secured, including the other anchor store, J.C. Penney Co. The retail space would be nearly five times as large as the company's store on St. Germain Street, which would close once the new store opened. Sears also would close its downtown location.

At the same time, then-St. Cloud Mayor Ed Henry and the council were criticized for entering into a 10-year agreement with the developers to provide city water and sewer to the shopping center.

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He issued a statement: "It should be clearly pointed out to St. Cloud citizens that the Crossroads Shopping Center would have gone in with or without city water and sewer. ... The feeling of the council is that tying them to us with water and sewer is by no means a certain way to get them to annex later on; but that it is a better way than fighting them so that eventually they are completely independent of St. Cloud and will act to incorporate themselves. If the latter happens, St. Cloud loses them forever."

To Henry, it was obvious. Crossroads' developers were depending on the city's population for its revenue, but wanted to avoid municipal taxes. Henry and his staff would work behind the scenes to research the law and collect data, being careful not to tip off the city of Waite Park or Crossroads officials.

In December 1967, the city filed its annexation petition, which set off a three-year legal battle.

Crossroads Shopping Center officially opened April 20, 1966, as the third-largest enclosed mall in the state. Only Southdale in Edina and Apache Plaza in St. Anthony were larger. There were 25 stores, and the mall area included "live trees and shrubs, spraying water fountains, lockers, and even public restrooms."

Festivities lasted four days and included special guest appearances by Twin Cities television personalities Betty Douglass from "Romper Room," Dave Lee from "Popeye and Pete," and Casey Jones and his pal Roundhouse from "Lunch with Casey." Clancy the Cop and Nurse Carmen also were on hand.

"When it opened, I would label it a small-town shopping center," said Don Bitzan, owner of D.J. Bitzan Jewelers, in a 1991 interview. "I don't think anyone thought it would be what it has become; no one could have had any idea."

Sources: Times archives, Stearns History Museum

Stores open at the time of the grand opening in April 1966

--American Family Insurance

--Buttrey's

--Cinema 70 Theater

--Crossroads Barbershop

--D.J. Bitzan Jewelers

--Del Farm Food Store

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--Fanny Farmer Candy Store

--Hallmark Cards and Gifts

--Lucille Heinen Beauty Salon

--Jensen Fabrics

--J.C. Penney Co.

--Kiddie Koncessions

--Kinney Shoes

--Musicland

--Pako Film Shop

--Ralph's Bakery

--Sears, Roebuck and Co.

--Scheels Hardware

--Shirley's Maternity Fashions

--St. Clair's Men's Wear

--Stevenson's

--Three Sisters

--Walbom's Apparel

--Walgreens

--Woolworth's

Crossroads Center timeline

September 1964: Workers break ground on the 400,000-square-foot Crossroads Shopping Center. Sears and Cinema 70 Theater open by the end of 1965. J.C. Penney Co. opens the first week of 1966.

April 20, 1966: Crossroads officially opens with 25 stores. Mall hours are 9:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday with some stores closing early on Saturday. The 26th store, Arnold Palmer Cleaners, opens a short time later.

1972: First Union Management Inc. of Cleveland buys Crossroads.

1976: The mall adds almost 200,000 square feet with the addition of Dayton's and smaller shops.

1985: A 108,000-square-foot Target store and 23 specialty stores open on the northeast end of the mall. Crossroads also adds 660 parking stalls on the northwest side. By the end of the year, there are 103 store spaces.

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1986: An additional 18 shops open, bringing the store total to 125 and square footage to about 750,000.

1990: The mall is at full occupancy in January with a record 128 stores. First Union puts Crossroads and other mall properties up for sale, but takes them off the market in 1991.

1991: Crossroads Shopping Center celebrates its 25th anniversary. First Union announces plans to upgrade and modernize the mall.

Fall 1995: A seven-month, $5 million renovation changes the common areas of mall, adding skylights, new flooring and redesigned entrances.

1998: Sears starts work on a 40,000-square-foot expansion; it finishes the interior work in August 1999.

March 15, 2000: General Growth Properties Inc. of Chicago buys Crossroads through a limited liability company named St. Cloud Mall.

2003: Target finishes a 23,000-square-foot expansion in October.

2004: Construction is completed on a 128,000-square-foot Scheels All Sports store in March. The adjacent food court and retail area is finished in April.

Source: Times archive

Current mall hours

Monday-Saturday

10 a.m.-9 p.m.

Sunday

11 a.m.-6 p.m.

Crossroads Center overview

Type of center: Single-level, enclosed, regional mall.

Anchor tenants: Macy's, J.C. Penney, Sears, Scheels, Target.

Number of stores: 119.

Total gross leasable area: 891,000.

Number of parking spaces: 4,300.

Source: General Growth Properties

About the mall's owner

General Growth Properties is a real estate investment trust focused exclusively on owning, managing, leasing and redeveloping regional malls in the United States. GGP's portfolio is comprised of 120 regional malls that have a total of 125 million square feet. GGP is headquartered in Chicago and is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol GGP.

Source: General Growth Properties

___

(c)2014 the St. Cloud Times (St. Cloud, Minn.)

Visit the St. Cloud Times (St. Cloud, Minn.) at www.sctimes.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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