Out of Control Policy Blog

Shopping Mall 2.0

After years of declining influence in the retail sector, the regional shopping mall fights back:

    For years the retail pie has been getting divvied up into smaller slivers. It used to be that there were only two big slices: regional malls and strip centers. But then came outlet malls. Power centers followed. And most recently, lifestyle and town centers have been the hot properties. This has produced conundrums for owners of major regional malls. They've ceded entire retail categories – pet supplies and furniture, for example – to other formats. And it has become exceedingly difficult to erect a plain vanilla shell anywhere in the U.S.

    So the big developers, such as Simon Property Group and General Growth Properties, have come up with a new way to spice up their offerings. They're trying to build the best of all worlds, creating massive hybrid centers, or "power towns," as one-stop destinations. Several current projects – some completed, some under development – include spruced-up regional malls, lifestyle and power centers all on one master-planned site. A hybrid center fits somewhere between lifestyle centers and even more ambitious mixed-use properties.

Read the article here. Perhaps I'm behind the curve or jargon-challenged, but I was having a hard time visualizing what exactly a "hybrid center" was until I read this:

    General Growth's Jordan Creek embodies the broad scope of the new hybrid. It cost $200 million, provides 200 acres of retail, dining, entertainment and recreation, and single-handedly makes Iowa more competitive against competing destinations. General Growth CEO John Bucksbaum projects that in 2005 the center will recapture more than $82 million from Iowans who previously trekked to Minneapolis, Chicago and Kansas City to shop.

    . . . .

    Jordan Creek is a three-part project that incorporates a two-level "shopping district" that houses such retailers as Williams-Sonoma and Ann Taylor as well as a Century Theatres movie complex with 20 screens, the largest in Iowa; a "village district" populated by specialty and big-box retailers, including Iowa's first Costco; and a "lake district" featuring a 3.5-acre lake surrounded by bike trails and a boardwalk featuring waterfront dining, along with an amphitheater and hotel.

The innovation spurred by commerce and its response to changing consumer preferences never ceases to amaze me.

Ten years ago I would have never imagined that someone could drive to one location, have a coffee at Barnes & Noble, pick up some drill bits at Home Depot, hit some bike trails and picnic by a lake, catch a matinee, browse cookwear at Williams-Sonoma, grab a sandwich at a boardwalk bistro, and stroll over to a symphony performance in the ampitheater.

And there's an important benefit of this innovation. While not every dying mall will be ripe for retrofit, the emerging "hybrid center" concept is likely to be a major shot in the arm for the struggling regional mall sector and may help to allay fears of the mass extinction of malls and concerns about what to do with the empty shells.

Just another example of inexhaustable human ability to find new uses for old things...

(Hat tip: Planetizen)

Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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