View Full Version : Interesting article about repurposing struggling shopping malls

2-7-12, 8:32am
I thought this article (http://finance.yahoo.com/news/gardening-golfing-mall-192402034.html)might be interesting to the SL crowd. The shopping mall by my house seems to be doing OK, but I know there are a lot of them across the country that are all but empty. I kind of like the idea of turning them from just a center of commercialism to more of a town square for suburbs that have no such thing.

2-7-12, 9:03am
Link is broken, Stella. Sounds interesting!

2-7-12, 9:09am
I love the idea of an indoor garden or park - or anything that creates more of a community sense. Shops could be integrated with this easily, and in a cold climate like ours, an indoor town square would be fabulous! I avoid going to malls as they are invented today because they absolutely drain my energy, and really, there is nothing there that I need.

Thinking... what would an indoor town square look like?
- good lighting - at least some natural light from windows/skylights
- trees and plants
- benches
- play area for young kids
- a good walking path

Most malls already have many of those. What are they missing to turn from consumer central to citizen central? Although the changes outlined in the article are extensive, the things I'm thinking of would not require any major architectural renovations:
- A place to provide local connections, where people could get information about community groups, volunteering, etc.
- A picnic/coffee/work area - a few tables with chairs that are not connected to The Mall Chain Restaurant. Ideally there could be a couple of these areas in the mall to cut down on the noise in any one place. (Think of the noise level in the average food court - it is far from being a relaxing place to eat, and it is impossible to have a discussion there.)
- A vacant store space could be converted into a local branch library.
- Another vacant space could be donated (or provided with reduced rent) to a nature center to create a learning/discovery space about the local area.

2-7-12, 10:25am
Thanks for letting me know redfox, I think I fixed the link now.

Rosemary, I was thinking the same thing about having an indoor town square in a cold climate like ours. I remember reading once that the man who designed the first malls here in the Twin Cities had visions of something along those lines and was very disappointed when they turned out to be nothing more than retail centers. I love all of your ideas!

I definitely think a seating area that isn't retail connected would be a key componant. I think it would be nice to have at least one seating area that was combined with a small play area so parents could sit and talk while the kids played. It would be fun to have a few of those checkerboard tables that could be used for games also.

Another seating area could be a quieter place for studying and working. I read about a concept here in our area that caters to people who work from home, but need an out-of-the-house place to work on occasion. I wish I could remember the name of it. They set it up in a way that gave people both private space and collaborative space. I think something like that would be excellent and would be a natural fit with a library, which my ideal "indoor town square" would definitely have to have.

In the case of a place like the mall with the community garden, a farmer's market could be a nice thing to have there too. Other farmers could come and bring their goods too, like the winter farmer's market in St Paul. You'd have the mall-grown produce plus honey, baked goods, jams and jellies, storable produce like squash and apples, dairy products and stuff like that.

I think a playground and green space would be ideal too. Maybe a stage for live music or theater events. Maybe one level could have a path for bikers and rollerbladers as well as walkers.

It's fun to imagine the possibilities.

dado potato
2-7-12, 10:31am
I agree, the article and following comments are thought-provoking. Thanks, Stella.

The USA is oversupplied with malls, and if market forces do their work, many will be demolished at a loss to the current investors (both owners and lenders). Some will be repurposed for housing, education, micro-business, public parks, etc. And I believe that would require local "social" entrepeneurs to make the commitment and take some prudent risks.

"Without vision the people perish."

2-7-12, 10:59am
How do they get the companies that own the properties/hold the leases to do this? In our town several spaces are sitting empty, but the owners/lessees don't seem to want to do anything with them.

Float On
2-7-12, 11:54am
One of our outlet malls now houses a techinal college in about 1/2 of it. The oldest outlet mall was just turned over to the city - there is all kinds of talk about what to do with the property. One suggestion was to tear it down and put in ball fields which is kind of funny because they took out the ball fields to build the mall almost 25 years ago.

2-7-12, 11:57am
A friend of mine who works in commercial real estate told me that there are a lot of insurance concerns in using empty spaces for community uses. It holds some people back from investing in properties for alternative uses.

2-7-12, 12:30pm
We had the perfect opportunity in our neighborhood when our local shopping mall began the die-off process. It would have made a wonderful, urban town square, park and community center with retail and housing included. Even after heavy neighborhood involvement, the developer who got a hold of it gave to the quickest candidate, Walmart, looking to develop in urban cores. Now, the enclosed mall with a central ice skating rink is gone and multiple strip chain stores with acres of asphalt surround the Walmart. Yuck!!

2-7-12, 12:39pm
A cheery article, Stella. Additional ideas surrounding "bringing back the popularity of malls", bazaars, arts & crafts shows, galleries (where artists could set-up, display, and sell their works), along with black tie events to represent the importance of such people and their accomplishments.

Other venues could be blacksmith shops, clay-making shops, glass-blowing/making shops, the list is endless, particularly if simple, frugal, and old-fashioned, hands-on type things were introduced. Not only could it be an educational process to get people out and about and learning new things, but additionally, a stepping stone for those interested in bettering themselves in fields where eventually, they could branch out on their own and establish a career for themselves.

Back in the 70's, I remember malls were always abuzz with people. Friday nights were like a gala event/celebration. It was a time to mull-around, chat, run-into friends, family, and everyday people you knew, then find a place to sit down and have a coffee with each other. Such a great way to wind-down after a work week and relax in good company.

I don't know whether or not the turn in the way people live (today), as compared to back then, had anything to do with the success rate malls enjoyed, but there's no denying the fact that people lived within their means back then and so, had more expendable income to throw around on things found in malls, not to mention, they enjoyed the more plain and simple things life had to offer.

Today however, it's all about ostentatious spending. You're a nobody if you don't live in a McMansion, drive a full-size SUV, and escape to exotic destinations for extended periods of time. Progression, and the way people think (nowadays), has IMO destroyed the old shopping culture so many of us are familiar with and know.

2-13-12, 9:12pm
One mall in my metro area has been mostly converted to an arts center, which I think is great. It has many art studios, and small performing arts theatres, etc.

2-14-12, 11:27am
On a similar note (not repurposing, but rather multi purposing). Here in Florida some Republican state representatives discovered an obscure law that has never been enforced. Apparently Florida has a law that any stadium or ballpark that has taken public funds is required to be used as a homeless shelter when not in use.

I don't doubt that the stadium owners will be able to use their money and clout to find a way around it, but I think it is wonderful that the law even exists.


2-15-12, 6:46pm
An empty supermarket in one of our local shopping centers was re-purposed into our new library--it's really very cool, with high ceilings and big fans...and having all that close parking is a big hit with the seniors and the mobility impaired...

2-18-12, 11:24am
Thanks, Stella! I'm sending a copy of this article to the Township Supervisor where I live. There's a mall within a mile of my house that's on its last legs. First Safeway pulled out, then Sears, and all that's left is a Subway, an outdoor equipment store, a dry cleaner, a small ancient Rite Aid, a private shipping service, a Chinese restaurant, a dollar store and a neighborhood bar. It's really dreary.

2-18-12, 10:40pm
I think an indoor play area is seriously, seriously THE answer.

When DS was a little tyke, and it was too cold/wet for him to effectively play on equipment outside, I used to drive WELL out of my way to go to the tiniest indoor play ground in the planet. There were two or three very busy times of day, and a few quiet ones, but it was really great. And, it was very small. But, it was worth it to let him crawl around and climb stairs and go down slides and stuff. And, he got to play with older children, which increased his capacities and abilities.

There were problems with this playground.

First, it was very small compared to it's relative use. It was nearly an afterthought, I think, rather than something planned. If it were larger, and possibly with age segregation (under 5s, over 5s), it would have better served the community. Second, it probably would have been better to put this play area near the food court, instead of a random corner, for example -- because beverages AND bathrooms were a good distance away from this play area. Third, it needed to be fenced. My little guy was fast, and would make a bee-line for the brightly colored clothes in the near-by shop (with sticky baby hands!) if the equipment was overrun with kids. I would work to head him off, but it didn't always go well. Finally, more comfortable chairs would have been really nice. Hard benches with no backs are not fun for tired parents.

This mall, as well, would probably do well to use areas for gardening as well. The whole thing was glass-topped -- like a green house. I could see how well veggies and such could grow in there in the winter. The large planters already in place would be great for planting fruit trees and underplanting those with other plants.

And, I love the idea of churches, community/government offices, and many related organizations just being able to fill a shop space.

2-26-12, 7:23pm
Governments already have enough parks, playgrounds, pavilions, libraries, etc.

We're $15 trillion in debt folks! Who is going to pay for all this? Santa Claus?