Beyond Sacramento

Tear-down of Elk Grove ‘ghost mall’ begins, paving way for new casino

Elk Grove’s “ghost mall” — the languishing eyesore along Highway 99 — will soon be no more.

Tearing down large sections of concrete and steel beams, construction workers began demolishing the northern part of the unfinished mall Friday to make way for the planned Wilton Rancheria casino-resort.

When completed, the $400 million casino development would be Sacramento’s closest, and include restaurants, a hotel, a spa and one of the region’s largest convention centers.

“We’re starting a new chapter moving closer to a brighter future for our tribal citizens the people of Elk Grove and the greater Sacramento region,” said Wilton Rancheria Chairman Raymond Hitchcock at the demolition event.

For many in attendance, the event highlighted what locals hope will be a fresh start for the blighted mall.

“It’s good to be out here,” the tribe’s executive director of cultural preservation, Ralph Troy Hatch, told the audience before he began an opening prayer. “It’s a new beginning song, and it’s kind of for all of us. … A lot of things are going to come.”

The “ghost mall” began as a planned high-end retail mall along Highway 99, but it went into bankruptcy during the recession and construction was abandoned in 2008. Though Howard Hughes Corp. purchased the property in 2013 with plans to build a 63-acre outlet mall, the skeletal structure remained unchanged.

Howard Hughes Corp. Construction, which owns the southern section of the mall structure, told city officials last month it would be abandoning its proposed mall. The company filed for demolition permits this week, and plans to remove remaining structures by the end of February, according to Elk Grove City Council member Pat Hume.

“This is a time to close the books on a complete failure,” Mayor Steve Ly said during the event. “If it hadn’t been for the tribal council and their vision to move towards self-sufficiency … we would not be here today.”

Wilton Rancheria, a local tribe, bought the northern portion of the mall property in 2016, and its gambling agreement with the state was approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior in early January of this year.

Though he said Elk Grove residents remain somewhat split on the casino along “moral lines,” Hume believes “when they see buildings coming down … they’ll be happy to see the investment.”

“It’s not like we’re bringing in a Las Vegas casino,” tribal council spokeswoman Tonya Caldwell said. “It’s going to be more of a resort with a venue, and a lot of other things (people) can enjoy even if they don’t want to step into the casino.”

Wilton Rancheria is the only federally recognized tribe in Sacramento County, with more than 700 members, Caldwell said. She said almost 60 percent of the tribe’s members are unemployed, and stressed that the casino is a much-needed economic driver for members.

“They’ve gone through a lot of struggles; a lot of them have had hardships,” she said. “This is an opportunity for us to provide them with jobs and education,” as well as health care benefits and more.

“I’ll admit that I will probably drop a coin or two into the one-armed bandits and play a hand of poker or blackjack,” Hume said “But it’s the other amenities that this project will bring that I’m really looking forward to.”

Hitchcock said demolition of Wilton Rancheria’s portion of the existing mall structure will take between three and four weeks. Construction will begin “later this year,” he said.

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Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks covers Sacramento County and the cities and suburbs beyond the capital. She’s previously worked at The New York Times and NPR, and is a former Bee intern. She graduated from UC Berkeley, where she was the managing editor of The Daily Californian.
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