Shopping Center Redevelopment Should Focus on Mixed Use

empty shopping center ripe for redevelopment

If you have a dead mall, you need to learn about shopping center redevelopment right away. It's nearly universal to go into denial first, but try to jump right on it when you notice an increasing rate of empty stores. If you ignore the situation, it won't improve; it will in fact deteriorate.

In fact the term "dead mall" has become enough a part of the vocabulary of the U.S.  Dead mall is the term for a shopping mall that feel lifeless, has many vacant storefronts, and lacks the traffic to generate excitement and a positive sales environment. There's even a fun dead malls website devoted to the topic.

It will get worse. Too many households believe they are carrying too much debt, and the continued sluggish economy in some areas does not promote shopping.

But in municipalities or counties that rely heavily on sales tax, dead malls are not comedy. They signal a rapid and painful deterioration of municipal services if another ready source of revenue is not available.

In a mall, all stores are interdependent to some extent. And mixed use development is often your only real solution, but because you depend on sales tax, perhaps, you don't want to acknowledge that.

You can spot a dead mall by looking at the parking lot. If there are very few cars near the doors, start learning about shopping center redevelopment.

Nearly every shopping mall is doomed to failure sometime. Shopping centers lack the diversity of a true city or town shopping experience.

The theme park atmosphere can exude only one basic mood, so just as theme parks would grow old to most of you if you visited them every couple of weeks or every month, people become bored with malls.

From this perspective shopping center redevelopment is inevitable and should be as creative as possible.

Note that in just a few cases, less traffic simply means that the mall needs to be refreshed visually and perhaps in terms of the retail mix. In those instances where income and a style-conscious population support a mall, a city might contemplate shopping center renovation instead of redevelopment, which would change the land use.

The Approach Regions Should Take—But Usually Won't

If you're lucky enough to live in a central city that encompasses most of the urbanized metropolitan area, complain tirelessly to the city government about the condition of the dead mall.

Demand action, not platitudes about the free market system and other property owners having a right to erect a mall.

This city government has jeopardized your immediate neighborhood by allowing too much competing space to be built. This is an abdication of its responsibility for comprehensive planning, and you should call it what it is.

Often, however, the problem is compounded by the fact that the "new" mall, lifestyle center, or strip center that makes the center near you obsolete is in a different municipality, or even a different county.

In this case you may have very little recourse except writing a few ineffective letters to regional councils of governments or other organizations that have very little power to influence local land use decisions.

A regional planning commission should take charge and declare that there are too many malls now. It should set up a review process for shopping centers over a specified square footage, review the need for additional shopping, and deny all applications for new malls.

Exceptions are when population increases or tourism and economic development increases support the need for significant new square footage of retail.

However, solid regional governance or a unified city-county government is mostly an apparition of a few scholars in the U.S., so usually nothing of the sort will happen. Therefore you may be left seeking some other ideas about how to deal with shopping center redevelopment.

Mixed Use as the Best Shopping Center Redevelopment Aim

Now we are going to tell you the plain truth. What works in shopping center redevelopment is usually "mixed use." The term refers to a mix of land uses, such as commercial (retail), office, residential, and perhaps other uses.

Many empty nesters would like to live in a beautiful condo with the ability to go to restaurants and shops without going outside, or at least very far outside.

Ideally your shopping center redevelopment can focus on some residential use; think of the wonderful high ceiling units you could offer, interspersed perhaps with some 8 foot ceiling units built two on a level.

In truth, residential development is now easier to finance than retail space in many communities, where overbuilt retail is common.

The advantages of mixed-use development include:

  • You can diversify housing choices for potential residents. If you have mostly upscale housing, you could add housing affordability without a major uproar. If you have mostly modest housing, this is your chance at a move-up option for current residents.
  • Using part of the building as housing means not as much retail space has to be rented.
  • You have less vulnerability to a large amount of vacant space if retail takes a downturn when a new shopping center is opened nearby.
  • Residents are a built-in market for the stores. Resident-oriented small businesses can be added to the usual mall mix.
  • Residents are "eyes on the street" for security purposes.
  • Offices can be added to the mix; they are less trendy than retail and less likely to flee to the next suburb for the sake of slightly newer finishes.
  • A hotel can become a space-intensive and income-boosting addition to your mixed use shopping center redevelopment scheme if you live near major highways or an airport. 

If you are near a college or university, you could do loft-style apartments offering panache for a moderate price. If you can divide up your mall a bit to lend a feeling of security, privacy, and quiet, perhaps through gradual transition from retail to office to residential, you might have an effective recipe.

While your municipality won't make a killing fiscally by taking the mixed-use approach to shopping center redevelopment, the likelihood that the development will be vital in ten, fifteen, and twenty years is much higher with mixed-use development than with a straight shopping center redevelopment where you simply apply a glossy sheen to everything.

Adapt Some Ideas from These Pages

  1. Community Development
  2.  >
  3. Redevelopment
  4.  >
  5. Shopping Center Redevelopment

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