Could Galleria fire boost “Think Auburn First” efforts?

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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For a decade, Auburn’s retail community has competed with the 800-pound gorilla “down the hill.” The Westfield Galleria at Roseville opened in 2000, sucking customers away from other Placer County retail centers, as well as valuable tax dollars. But the 1.5-milliion-square-foot Westfield Galleria is closed and Roseville is reeling after a fire Thursday that left hundreds out of work for the foreseeable future and the possibility of the giant mall darkened over the Christmas shopping season. But it’s a competitive opening leading members of the Think Auburn First organization are shunning. Instead, they’re more compassionate than competitive. “Nobody’s happy about that,” Think Auburn First co-founder Cheryl Maki said. “It’s horrific. I don’t wish that on anybody. All those businesses are being put out of business at a time they can’t afford to be.” Think Auburn First is an Auburn organization formed to counter the impact of the recession and stop the flow of retail dollars to other communities. The group is not only fighting for the survival of local business. It’s also fighting to keep valuable sales tax dollars in Auburn to keep up the city’s infrastructure and service needs. The city of Auburn expects to realize just short of $3 milliion in sales tax revenue this year compared with $4.38 million in 2006-07. The city’s total general fund revenue this year is expected to reach $8.21 million. Kevin Hanley, an Auburn City Councilman who chairs Think Auburn First, described the fire and mall closure as a tragedy and not an opportunity. “I also see it as a public safety issue for the community, businesses and the Auburn Police Department,” he said. “It’s a question of whether we can handle a situation where a mentally deranged person starts a series of fires rather than about Think Auburn First.” Maki, who co-owns an air-conditioning and heating business in Auburn, said that when the smoke clears, people will be forced to look at their shopping options. “But I don’t wish any ill on any of the businesses suffering down the hill because of this horrific fire,” she said.