Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Are malls yesterday's news?

The Twin Cities are littered with malls. Off the top of my head I can think of Rosedale, Southdale, Ridgedale, Brookdale, Burnsville Center, Mall of America, Eden Prairie Center and a whole host of lesser malls including Knollwood, Northtown Mall and newer outdoor retail complexes like those in Maple Grove and Coon Rapids. Of course there are even worse attempts at shopping malls in the Twin Cities like the former Priordale in Prior Lake which has been redeveloped nicely as a strip mall and a still delapidated but somehow alive Shakopee Town Square. Hell, most every suburb probably has something billed as a mall somewhere in the city and chances are that it is hurting.

Even in Minnesota, the trend seems to be to take it outside. A forced sense of urbanism with outdoor sidewalks and barely navigable streets is what is currently cool. It's supposed to be the rebirth of the downtown but I know better. To me it's still a shopping center because we've been trained to think what downtowns are. They feature a lack of parking but these new "downtowns" have sprawling parking lots much like the malls of old. But these new lifestyle centers, as developers call them, work. It makes sense because they seem to have damn near every name in retail one could think of.

The one in Coon Rapids is particularly troubling to me. It spans multiple blocks and while I avoided entering its tangle of so-called streets, it was a madhouse of spending - even late on a Thursday afternoon. I'm not familiar with that area of the Twin Cities but I'm betting that its construction left more than a few vacant storefronts elsewhere in town.

And if you think this is just a metro problem you are dead wrong. Back in my old hometown, good ole' drug-ridden, illegal immigrant-filled Austin, MN, the mall which at one time I'm told was actually prosperous now contains two anchor stores and probably less than a dozen smaller stores. I remember at one time the freeway-facing signage advertised over 60 stores but I don't ever remember seeing it full. Even its "food court" - containing only two restaurants - sucks. It, too, fell victim to big box development and lifestyle centers but on a smaller scale. With a K-Mart built across the street in the 1990s and a Target built across the highway later that same decade, the nails were positioned, all somebony needed to do was pound them in to the coffin.

Then came a Super Walmart a couple years ago. Even from nearly 100 miles away I could hear the pounding of those nails. The coffin was closed and it took K-Mart with it this year. Last year they lost a Cash Wise Foods grocery store. A Rainbow Foods store, circa late 1990s So, much like Brookdale Center and other now-doomed malls, hundreds of thousands of square feet of retail space stand vacant. Grass slowly growing through the cracking pavement as a couple vehicles sit parked marked for sale by the owners.

So maybe the American love affair with malls is done. They had a nice fifty year run. And maybe it's finally been realized that we, as a country, are simply over-retailed. Redundant businesses are shuttered all the time - take note of Snyders Drug Stores - they are gone but CVS is building in every other city now. Maybe its all cyclical and these malls will again be bustling in ten years as someone thinks up a new use. Or maybe the owners, failing to look forward, will end up with millions of square feet of once viable retail space on the auction block as cities deal with massive, neglected eyesores on prominent highways for all travelers to see. What to do, what to do?

Join in a discussion of the recent foreclosure sale of Brookdale Center and read up on Brookdale's checkered past.

While you're at it, check out the photos of Minnesota at MinnPics.

1 comment:

Reuben said...

You're a little bit more optimistic than I am about the demise of shopping malls. I don't see them disappearing any time soon, just consolidating - the malls that survive will become larger and larger. And you're exactly right that the construction of new shopping malls doesn't create any new revenue, it just transfers it from one location to another.

Lifestyle centers are an urban design joke - but if there's a silver lining, it's that a successful lifestyle center demonstrates that consumers still like the feel of a vibrant main street.