For a while, the impressive mountain views in Provo, Utah were matched only by the city's unimpressive retail market. Nestled at the feet of the snow-capped Wasatch range south of Salt Lake City and the hip ski village of Park City, Provo was a playground for outdoor enthusiasts, but a wasteland for shoppers seeking upscale retailers.

High-end Provo consumers were having to drive 45 miles to Salt Lake for “civilized” shopping. Until recently, the only options available in Provo consisted of passé retailers, an outdated mall and a bevy of big-box value chains. Provo lacked the upscale, modern shopping destinations its demographics demanded.

Retail comes calling

In the late 1990s, several hot national specialty chains expressed interest in the Provo market, but were turned off by the town's antiquated regional center. This prompted San Francisco-based Terranet Investments LLC to step in and discuss an alternative site with retailers — Why not build a new center more in tune with its surroundings?

Terranet found an ideal site for the proposed center in the city's northern suburbs: a scenic tract that bordered office buildings, upscale housing and a fly-fishing river. “Originally, the plan called for a strip center format,” says Lin Miller, managing member of Terranet. “But due to the quality of the surroundings and the nature of the retailers that were interested, we decided to create an intimate streetscape.”

San Francisco-based architects Field Paoli joined the team, presenting a plan to create a well-defined community focus for the neighborhood. “We carefully studied the area and its inhabitants — their homes, their neighborhoods,” says David Paoli, principal with the firm. “We decided an open-air center would be most appropriate. Even in the cold, snowy parts of the year, Provo residents enjoy being outside.”

Building a community

The results of the development team's efforts came to fruition in August 1998, when The Shops at Riverwoods opened its doors, offering 192,781 sq. ft. of such tenants as Abercrombie & Fitch, Eddie Bauer, Williams-Sonoma, Gap, GapKids, AnnTaylor and Banana Republic. This lineup of trendy retailers helped draw shoppers to the center from a market population of 213,000.

The new center consists of a realigned series of streets and waterways creating a downtown center defined by a vehicular main street. No traditional anchors exist, but a theater and Borders bookstore serve as bookends for the main street shops, culminating in a turnaround that defines the main public space and restaurant area. Parking is provided along the main street with additional small lots distributed near shop entrances.

“Our most important goals were to fit in with the natural surroundings and to create an environment where the retailers could relate to each other,” Paoli says. “When you look up at the hills in the distance, you can see bands of color in the trees on the mountainside. The center's stucco buildings are inspired by those colors. We also used a local stone as an accent material.”

Most of the shops are one-level, but more prominent tenants feature two levels of selling space. The project uses simple building forms with punched openings and enriched trim materials to give prominence to each tenant. Storefront design and rich awning colors provide diversity, building on the center's “village” atmosphere. Vaulted roofs and an overlay of signage provide a strong massing identity as you approach the project from a distance, Paoli says.

Terranet is so pleased with the center's performance, it is planning to add a residential component due for completion this September, Miller says. “Across the street from the existing project, we're building 140 townhomes and flats with street-level retail.”

The center provided the catalyst for serious retail growth in Provo, Miller says. Retailers that had never considered the market before took new interest. The influx of new tenants brought by The Shops at Riverwoods sparked life in the city's old regional center. And a new mall, the 941,297-sq.-ft. Provo Town Center, opened in 1998. “Now that they've seen how well the others have been doing, more and more retailers are coming to Provo.”

Project team
  • Architect: Field Paoli Architects, Inc.
    1045 Sansome Street
    San Francisco, CA, 94903
    David Paoli, Rob Anderson,
    Beckie Denio
  • Developer: Terranet Investments, Inc.
    P. O. Box 2983
    San Anselmo, CA 94960
    Ralph Epstein, A. Nick Javaris,
    Lindley H. Miller
  • General Contractor:
    Layton Construction Co. Inc.
    9090 South Sandy Parkway
    Sandy, UT 84070
    David Layton
  • Structural Engineer: Robinson Meier & Juilly
    103 Linden Avenue
    So. San Francisco, CA 94080
    Paul Juilly, Peter Robinson
  • Landscape Architect:
    Fong and Associates
    930 West 16 th Street
    Costa Mesa, CA 92627
    Allen Fong, Fernando Micheli
  • Lighting: Architectural Lighting Design
    370 Brannan Street
    San Francisco, CA 94107
    David Malman
  • Civil Engineer: ALM & Associates Inc.
    2230 North University Parkway
    Building 6C
    Provo, UT 84604
    Mark Greenwood