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Let’s Go to the Mall

How changes in consumer trends have left malls to restrategize their presence

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“Let’s go to the mall!” was a favorite pastime phrase heard regularly, especially in the sweltering summer months and during the holiday season. Patrons would visit for shopping, a bite to eat at the food court, maybe to see a movie, and hang out with friends. In today’s retail climate, the once bustling enclosed malls continue to face many challenges; some will survive, many won’t, and a large number are already long gone.

With Coresight Research estimating that 25% of malls will close within the next 3 to 5 years, we are left the ominous question, “What does the future look like for enclosed regional malls?”

The mall development craze dates back to the 1950s with the first U.S. regional mall development completed in 1956 in Edina, Minnesota. Developers all over followed suit with the realization that they could build a large flat building in the middle of a field and quickly see a return. For the next 30 years malls with similar layouts that housed the same national tenants were developed across the country.

Kansas City also played a heavy hand in the enclosed mall development craze; at one point, the Kansas City Metro was home to nine enclosed malls. The most notable being:

Ward Parkway Center: Built in 1959 and formerly known as Parkway Theater, it is believed to be the first movie theater in the country designed as a multiplex. Today, the mall continues to operate and evolve as a power center with a new exterior restaurant and entertainment pavilion added to the center in 2019.

Metcalf South: The first regional mall built in the state of Kansas in 1967 was demolished 50 years later, leaving Sears as a freestanding big box. Led by LANE4, redevelopment of the former mall site continues, including Lowe’s, a senior living community, and several outparcels with restaurant and retail users.

Independence Center: In operation since 1974, the mall remains one of the Metro’s two remaining enclosed malls. Since both Sears and Macy’s shut their doors and new ownership took over, a new themed entertainment area was installed; a trend large malls are seeing to attract more traffic and capture consumer’s attention.

Oak Park Mall: In operation since 1975, the regional enclosed mall is the largest in the Metro and the state of Kansas. In 2023, Oak Park is expected to lose one of its five anchors with the relocation of Nordstrom to the Country Club Plaza.

Metro North Mall: Constructed in 1976, the center was demolished in 2017 leaving Macy’s as a freestanding retailer. Local developers are well underway with a redevelopment, including T-Shotz Golf and a 247-unit apartment complex. Several outparcels, and retail pad sites are also available.

Bannister Mall: Beginning in 1980, Bannister Mall was the “place to go” in South Kansas City. Demolished in 2009, the 290-acre site is now occupied by Cerner’s 1.5M sf Innovations Campus, supporting over 16,000 new jobs.

Malls were in trouble long before the advent of online shopping and boom of eCommerce. According to Innovating Commerce Serving Communities (formerly International Council of Shopping Centers), 750 malls were built from 1970 to 2000. By 2008, that number increased to 1,100. However, the startling reality was every mall looked nearly identical and consumers couldn’t keep up with the retail inventory.

Over the last 30 years, national retailers have made their way into big box developments giving consumers an abundance of shopping options, and ones that are often closer to home. Combine the development of power and lifestyle centers with the slow demise of traditional department stores, and these consequences seem inevitable. The days of malls being fully retail-driven are long gone.

In the past decade (and last year alone), the malls that didn’t evolve fast enough are continuing to stumble into a downward cycle of depleting sales and empty storefronts. It’s estimated that the pandemic sped up this process by at least 5 years.

So, now what?

It’s like the quote from The Shawshank Redemption as one inmate tells the other it’s time to, “Get busy living, or get busy dying.” Mall owners are at a fork in the road with the decision to either invest heavily into their malls to keep them alive, or let them sink into obsolescence.

Mixed-use concepts are at the core of mall reinvention with endless opportunities to incorporate a variety of uses. For example, owners of Hawthrone Mall in Vernon Hills, Illinois are underway with a massive redevelopment including the demolition of Sears and an addition of 60,000 sf of new retail, restaurant, and health and wellness concepts. Additional outparcels are planned along with 311 multifamily units.

What once used to be the bustling Crossroads Mall in Omaha is now a freestanding Target. Redevelopment plans call for 350,000 sf of retail and restaurant uses, 250 apartment units, 50,000 sf of office, a senior living community, 150-room hotel, and 2.5 acres of public amenities.

Another mall in Antioch, Tennessee has tapped into Nashville’s professional hockey team and higher education. The mall now houses the Nashville Predator’s practice ice skating rink and satellite campus and library for Nashville Community College.

There’s no denying malls will continue to face uphill battles, but just like we’ve seen over the past year, with any change comes opportunity. And with strategic planning and creativity, there’s opportunity to redefine the future of enclosed malls.