With restaurants and bars now occupying upwards of 25 percent of space, mall owners are struggling to identify new opportunities to stem their decline. There is growing recognition that to compete with vibrant downtowns and online shopping, malls will also need to add hotels, apartments, and entertainment to create attractive mixed-use neighborhoods.
Alongside unsustainable sprawl, unsightly strip malls are too often a feature of our suburban landscape. This article draws ideas from DeSoto Marketplace in DeSoto, Texas. The approach here was incremental and adaptive, introducing small cost-effective changes that, over time, transformed the underutilized shopping center into a pocket of walkability and a vibrant local business.
Further case studies can be found in a paper prepared by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and the Congress for the New Urbanism, Reclaiming the Strip Mall: A Common Suburban Form, Transformed, by Christopher Kuschel.
Katie Beck writes about the increasing online competition for retailers in Europe and North America, and its effect on the bottom lines of brick-and-mortar shops. Mall repair and sprawl repair techniques can enrich the overall community experience, while creating jobs and housing, and boosting the bottom line.
“In years to come, the Black Friday spectacle of throngs of shoppers scrambling past each other to ransack shelves of flat screen TVs might look very different.
Shopping may be about to undergo a dramatic transformation. Within the next decade it could change into an activity driven entirely by experiences and interactive technology rather than the act of buying. Think pop-up shops on steroids; places where you try things on or test products in person but don’t actually make any purchases.
But this increasingly digital shopping experience means brands have fewer opportunities to meet their customers face-to-face and are getting desperate to connect. It is leading them to seek out new ways of reaching consumers.
Exactly what will fill these spaces remains to be seen, but with digital retail technology likely to continue disrupting the shopping experience, it is safe to assume that Black Friday could become more of an experience than a bargain hunt.”
Laura Hillen writes that grocery retailers are finding new homes as mall anchors in suburbia.
Due to declining foot traffic, many retailers are now preparing to close a large number of their stores. These closures are leaving empty mall spaces in their wake.
Food retail is one thing helping struggling malls survive,” June Williamson, an architecture professor at the City College of New York, and Co-Author of Retrofitting Suburbia.
Williamson also stated that losing an anchor store and its lease payment can make it difficult for a mall’s survival. However, malls are starting to focus on answering consumer needs apart from just clothing. As the consumer shopping experience continues to change, malls could prove a successful financial hub by offering food-related business.
Retrofits of existing malls can capitalize on proximity to infrastructure, housing, parking and public transportation. Grocers and other non-traditional mall uses, such as offices and health care, can benefit the entire region without the need to build from the ground up.
“Sears Holdings Corp (SHLD.O) is closing eight of its namesake department stores and 35 Kmart locations to cut costs and square footage in an effort to return to profitability, Chief Executive Officer Eddie Lampert said on Friday. The store closings are in addition to 150 the company announced in January.
“This is part of a strategy both to address losses from unprofitable stores and to reduce the square footage of other stores because many of them are simply too big for our current needs.”
As anchor tenants like Sears retreat, smaller adjacent retailers will suffer from reduced foot traffic. Where possible, increasing density utilizing Sprawl Repair techniques can return jobs and tax revenue to communities.
The need to retrofit failing malls is becoming ever more urgent:
“On May 31, the big bank Credit Suisse predicted that 25 percent of malls would be gone in the next five years. Earlier forecasts had also been dire, and results prove them to have been accurate. Malls used to be anchored by big department stores — Sears, JCPenney, Macy’s, and the like.
All are now in deep doo-doo and closing stores, upsetting the malls that relied upon them as consumer draws and sources of revenue. The smaller mall stores, which pay higher rent per square foot than the anchors, are having trouble, further biting into mall revenue and traffic.”
Shopping-center landlords are rethinking the traditional mall model—and shops aren’t necessarily part of the equation.
As retailers close bricks-and-mortar stores at an accelerating pace, shopping-center landlords like Starwood Capital are facing a vexing question: What to do with all this empty space?
Some landlords plug empty spaces with churches, for-profit schools and random enterprises while they figure out a long-term plan. Others see a future in mixed-use real estate, converting malls into streetscapes with restaurants, offices and housing. And some are razing properties altogether and turning them into entertainment or industrial parks.
‘Many mall owners are trying to liven up the experience, bringing more dining and entertainment tenants and eschewing the traditional mix.’
The Editorial Staff of the Bristol Herald in Bristol, VA is seeking to raise public pressure on local officials to find a solution to the dying Bristol Mall in their midst:
“We’ve previously discussed ideas and the need for action for our “skeletal mall.”
“This might all imply prevention of the mall’s slow death is a civic issue, but it’s not. All of us citizens who share a hope to see the mall, built in 1976, thrive for another 40 years also have an applicable duty. We should collaboratively raise awareness and a sense of urgency to move on this.
Let’s try an experiment: Let’s all call and write the city’s leaders within the next two weeks, asking what’s being done to fill the mall and to explore these kinds of options.
If each reader makes the effort to simply ask questions, the strength-in-numbers concept would make the topic too relevant for our local government to ignore.”
Read more about their investigations into retrofitting their mall, and the success Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., experienced in Richmond during his time as mayor there.
Regency Square Mall, which opened in 1975 in Richmond, Virginia, is undergoing what’s called a suburban retrofit, a term used for taking aging malls, office parks and other suburban properties and transforming them into more sustainable, urban and mixed-use developments.
Robert Gibbs, president of Gibbs Planning Group and author of the book “Principles of Urban Retail Planning and Development,” says Regency Square’s strategy may prove successful.
“I have seen those kinds of conversions work,” Gibbs says. “It’s when they turn the mall inside out and put the internal stores on the street.”
As department stores like Macy’s and Sears continue to struggle, Gibbs says the future is grim for the majority of America’s suburban malls.
“There’s about 2,000 of them, and we estimate that about 1,500 of them will close in the next five years, and that’s because they’re depending on department stores to stay open,” Gibbs says. “Without the department stores, it’s really hard to get people to go inside the mall.”
That said, Gibbs says malls in good locations can “right-size,” reducing their retail square footage and bringing in housing, entertainment and office space to create a walkable development where people can live, work and enjoy themselves.
Jenna Martin of the Charlotte Business Journal wrote, “Think small to drive big, lasting results. That’s the current thought behind early efforts to breathe new life into the abandoned Eastland Mall property. That could range from small market-like businesses operating out of shipping containers and open, outdoor dining to a spot for food trucks or a place to hang out.”
As a sub-consultant to Jacobs Engineering’s Atlanta office, DPZ CoDesign is collaborating on the redesign of site of the former Eastland Mall, a 69-acre parcel owned by the City of Charlotte. They met with many of the key stakeholder groups in the East Charlotte area where this mall was once a major regional retail and social hub. This was also a week of re-assessing several prior design exercises.
On May 18th, 2017, the community celebrated the site’s past and explored the future during the exciting Eastland “days gone by” and Eastland “days to come” event. Neighbors gathered amid food trucks, a pop up park, cycle track, interactive murals and activities, to reminiscence and imagine new possibilities for the site as part of the evolving Eastland story.
DPZ provided a popular exhibit based on the successional evolution of an existing flea/farmer’s market. A typical public open space can be surrounded and defined by food trucks and temporary market stalls, initially, transitioning to fun and funky shipping container groupings, and ultimately to vibrant shops and restaurants in the potential climax condition for a revitalized town center.
American cities, long reliant on sales-tax revenue from retailers to support municipal budgets, are facing a harsh reckoning as the era of the shopping center as municipal cash cow appears to be at an end.
Sprawl is an outdated and dysfunctional form of development. Its numerous and gargantuan problems have been pointed out over the last few decades, but the recent economic and real estate calamities – with office parks, shopping centers, and entire subdivisions failing daily – have shown everyone the urgent need to address these problems. The responsible and sustainable way to deal with sprawl is neither to abandon it nor to continue building in the same pattern, but to reuse and reorganize as much of it as possible into complete, livable, robust communities. The Sprawl Repair Manual offers a comprehensive method to do this. Based on knowledge gained from built projects, it is a practical guide that illustrates how to repair the full range of suburban development types. It demonstrates a step-by-step process for the creation of more sustainable human settlements out of our wasteful sprawling landscape. This is a framework for designing the interventions, incorporating them into the regulatory system, and implementing them with permitting strategies and financial incentives.
Below is an edited excerpt from the Sprawl Repair Manual that demonstrates the transformations of one of the most typical and promising contenders for sprawl repair, the shopping mall. (Analysis of the region and the site’s immediate context, as well as urban design, zoning and implementation techniques, are explained in more detail in the book). Because of their location, parcel size, ownership structure, and opportunities for transit and mixed uses, malls have great potential to be transformed into transit-ready urban cores, commonly referred to as town centers.