“We are so happy with the way things turned out,” Legends general manager Dennis McGovern said. “We’re happy with the environment we’ve created – the whole team, the city, the Q&D (Construction) team. It’s been such a monumental team effort.”
Onlookers listened to the grateful voices and commendations of the project’s innovators, creators and political supporters, including the Sparks City Council, the artists, contractor Q&D Construction and Sparks native Gov. Jim Gibbons.
Former Sparks Councilman John Mayer, the predecessor of current Councilwoman Julia Ratti, told the crowd of hundreds about his own memories of the property’s withering state during his childhood in Sparks.
“Most people who don’t like the idea of Legends and growth and this being here, well, we can plow it all to dirt and put back the batch plant back and dig the pit if that’s what you want it,” Mayer said. “I think this is so great.”
After the ceremony, visitors wandered into some of the new stores, including Saks Fifth Avenue Off Fifth, Ann Taylor Factory, GameStop, Jones New York, Carter’s and OskKosh B’Gosh. Stores enticed customers with discounts and smiles on the employees’ faces in every entrance.
The 24 new stores to open on Thursday joined five previous retail and restaurant businesses already in operation: Target, Best Buy, Jazz: A Louisiana Kitchen, Olive Garden and Scheels All-Sports. Groundbreaking on Scheels, the anchor store and the inaugural structure of the development, began in spring 2007.
Another 16 venues will open by Aug. 1 for another 10 days of special activities that takes place July 31 through Aug. 9.
The 148-acre destination retail center is a significant milestone in the metamorphosis of east Sparks. The once barren, industrial blight of Helms Pit underwent major groundwater and soil vapor extraction and other major treatments to transform into the Sparks Marina, a family-oriented recreational area, in the early 1990s.
While the project has had its hiccups, there was a sense of relief and pride among officials and dignitaries on Thursday that the first portion of the Legends shopping center will bring in taxpayers’ dollars and heighten the region’s appeal.
“I think it’s exciting,” Sparks City Councilman Ron Smith said. “I have a passion for Sparks and everything I talk about is about Sparks. We deserve this. This isn’t just something we’ve got. The citizens deserve this. We’ve been spending our money in Reno for how many years and we can spend it here now.”
Among the many praises, if there was one complaint about the development to be heard Thursday, it was about the disabled’s inability to enter the entrances without the help of someone to open doors.
According to Dennis Thorman, a member of the Sparks Advisory Committee for the Disabled, “The only flaw is that there are no handicap access buttons on any of the stores besides Target and Scheels.”
Otherwise, many people murmured to companions around Legends that they were glad they would no longer have to make the drive to other area shopping centers such as Meadowood Mall or the Summit, both of which are in south Reno.
The entire project’s construction is managed by Q&D Construction, which collaborated with Jane McNeely of Jane Designs, Inc. to create elaborate sculptures and other artwork that depict Nevada’s historical figures and wildlife.
During the ceremony, Q&D owner Norman Dianda shared his pride in Legends.
“This is a signature project for northern Nevada and the city of Sparks,” he said. “You have to look at the design, the mix in material and the art that’s in this project. I don’t think there’s another project in northern Nevada that compares to this project today.”
The development itself still has a way to go to completion. The start of phase two, according to McGovern, will begin in about 30 to 45 days with the immediate construction of the 13-screen IMAX theater and many more restaurants, entertainment venues and retailers.
Another hurdle has been the indefinite delay of the Legends Bay Casino, the two-tower gaming resort that has been unable to acquire financing.
The $1.2 billion project is expected to bring 600,000 to 800,000 new visitors annually, as well as an estimated 5 million tourists.