One of the more recurring themes of the 2017 news cycle was the death of big box retail (aka the “retail apocalypse”) especially in the wake of America’s shifting preferences to online shopping. While planners and real estate professionals have been lamenting the death of the traditional shopping mall for more than a decade, industry estimates of this past year alone indicated that more than 8,600 stores could close—including many of the brand-name anchor tenants synonymous with American capitalist success (i.e. Sears, Macy’s, JCPenney and Radio Shack). By 2022, it is estimated that 1 out of every 4 malls in the U.S. could be out of business. Some have canonized this phenomenon into an art form (see Seph Lawless’s high-quality coffee table book: “Black Friday-The Collapse of the American Shopping Mall) while others do autopsy work documenting the reasons behind America’s evolving consumer culture and global economic indicators.
The combination of e-commerce (to put into perspective, the mobile shopping share grew from 1.8% in the 2nd quarter of 2010 to 20% by the 3rd quarter of 2016!); the over-supply of retail in the U.S. and the shifting preferences of millennials from materialism to experience and authenticity (thus the new trend in “eatertainment”) have collectively combined to work against the traditional shopping center—once the hallmark of successful suburban neighborhoods. Once an anchor tenant departs a large center, a ripple effect occurs where smaller, supporting retail and service providers struggle to remain and communities are left with what the land development industry refers to as a “greyfield”.
This ultimately leaves us with the question of what to do with all the space left behind? Communities can make two choices: look at their sites as nuisances waiting with futility for a broker to lease them again, or look at it as an opportunity to transform these “greyfields” into lasting places—giving people a reason to come to these centers beyond filling their shopping bags.
There are a growing number of repurposed centers across the country built around placemaking, with the recognition that redeveloping older, underperforming asphalt into mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods is the most effective, long-term strategy to enhance the economic and quality of life of the surrounding community. From Belmar in Lakewood, Colorado to Mizner Park in Boca Raton, Florida, the transformation of declining regional malls and shopping centers into residential, retail, office, parks, plazas and other public spaces not only supports community redevelopment goals, but more importantly addresses the shifting demographic preferences of millennials and downsizing boomers. In other words, they can rent their loft apartment, grab some avocado toast at the artisan eatery, then come back and hang out at the local craft brewery— all in the same location!
The successful redevelopment of these sites means that you’re also maximizing revenue support to your town, city, and neighborhood. Businesses pay sales taxes to the city and county and all that that tax money previously lost in dead greyfield sites can be used to support public schools, parks, roads, and sidewalks, as well as fund the growing expense of public service workers, like firefighters and police.
Check out Fred Jones' case-focused blog post on this topic on "VOID" blog here: http://voidlive.com/turning-tired-spaces-lasting-places-whats-next-beaches-kmart-lot/