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October 29, 2009

Shopping spree!

Thousands crowd CrossIron Mills’ opening weekend

Jasmin So-Armada

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For far too long CrossIron Mills was on everyone’s lips, everyone that is, who was curious about how big or how many shops were going into the new mall.

And though some of the “brick and mortar,” has gone up, there is still much to expect of the Balzac mall, touted as Alberta’s largest enclosed shopping centre to open in 20 years.

CrossIron Mills opened to heightened media fanfare on August 19, creating traffic jams in every direction. But many braved the gridlock on the Queen Elizabeth II Highway north of Calgary just for a chance to see what the buzz was all about.

More than 250,000 people visited the centre during the five-day Grand Opening celebrations. They came to lounge, shop and eat at the mall located just five minutes away from Calgary city limits (but traffic on opening day and the weekend right after stretched that to at least half an hour), in a little hamlet previously more known for its spring-predicting groundhog, Balzac Billy.

The mall’s location in Balzac — halfway between Calgary and Airdrie — was crucial for the developers, and its opening just happily coincided with Airdrie’s centennial year.

Ivanhoe Cambridge, CrossIron Mills’ developer, built the mall because the time was ripe for a new Western Canadian shopping centre, it having been two decades since an enclosed mall was built in the province. The almost 700 acre site was chosen because it had the best access to QE II, the Calgary International Airport, and took into account the high growth areas of Calgary’s northwest and northeast sectors, as well as those of Balzac and Airdrie.

Airdrie, in fact is growing to become a booming regional service centre with a population that has more than doubled over the last 11 years. “Airdrie’s population has grown from 17,519 in 1998 to a recorded 38,091 this past May 2009,” says Leona Esau of Airdrie Economic Development.

 “We thought we had the best long-term location, plus the visibility from (QE II) where an estimated 21 million cars pass by a year,” says James Moller, Ivanhoe Cambridge general manager.

The single-level shopping centre has 200 stores and restaurants, 17 anchor stores, a gross building area of 1.4 million square-feet, and a gross leasable store area of 1.25 million square-feet. The figures may seem staggering, but the mall was designed specifically as a destination shopping centre. “Our trading area is very large, all the way from Red Deer, Banff, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge and of course, Calgary,” says Moller.

The unique architectural design of CrossIron Mills boasts an intriguing platform to host retailers and entertainment. Designed using aspects of the province of Alberta as inspiration, the exceptional visual elements throughout the centre are brilliant features not to be missed.

Moeller adds that the beauty of CrossIron Mills is that it is an attraction unto itself, making this shopping destination “Beyond the Ordinary”.

The name CrossIron Mills itself is drawn from provincial influences. Cross, stems from “Crossroads” — where two roads intersect, and Iron represents the “Branding Iron” which is symbolic of Alberta’s ranching heritage. While Mills references the Mills design of Ivanhoe Cambridge properties.

CrossIron Mills is divided into neighbourhoods with names such as Fashion, Sport, Ranch, Resources and Fossil, each with a different theme, flooring and architectural features. “The neighbourhoods make for specialized shopping so people can casually shop without hunting and going to the opposite side of the mall just to get what they need,” says Moller.

The entire centre is made up of a 2.7 kilometre “racetrack,” with rest stops and courts along the way. “People can have coffee at Timothy’s at the Fashion Neighbourhood, or stop in the Sport Court to watch Extreme TV, or stop at the Campfire Court and watch the twinkling lights,” says Moller.

The mall has 17 anchor stores, many of which are unique and new to Alberta. These include Pro Hockey Life, Forever 21, the largest Tommy Hilfiger and Laura store in the province, one of the first Bed Bath and Beyond shops, the largest Toys R Us, and the only Bass Pro Shop outdoor sports supply store in Western Canada. There are also great deals to be had at the mall, with 55 per cent of the stores being outlet/discount stores.

Dining being closely tied to shopping, CrossIron Mills currently has 19 fast food outlets with A&W, Koryo Korean Barbecue, Jimmy the Greek, Umi Sushi Express, even a Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory that churns out caramel encrusted apples. Christmas ornaments, perfume, hermit crabs and cell phones are some of the stuff sold by kiosks and carts along the centre aisle. Another formerly home-based shop, Cream Body & Bath just opened a kiosk at CrossIron Mills.

Other specialized stores that have recently opened shop include Indigo Chapters, Starbucks, and Cafe Supreme. Brooks Brothers, a U.S. retailer will open next year. Still to come is the entertainment wing, which will open in 2010, that will not only have a Cineplex but will have three sit-down restaurants. NL

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