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Mall Makeovers - New lives for old Shopping Centres


Empty Malls might be a sign of the times, but those which are prepared to embrace change are finding new life in a variety of ways  

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA-NC

Evolution and Decline 


Malls or shopping centres as we know them, began their rise and rise in the USA in the 1950’s and quickly spread around the world, growing in size and number in parallel with car culture and the suburbs until approximately 2000, when online shopping began to clip their wings. Read more on the rise and fall of the mall here.

With many malls and shopping centres already suffering a downturn, the pandemic dealt them another blow with lockdowns, more people working from home and a desire to avoid crowds. In the USA some 12,000 shops had closed by 2020, with most of them located within shopping centres. Almost one third of America’s 1000 malls are expected to close by 2025.

Nor is the problem confined to the USA. Several large centres in the UK such as the Elephant and Castle in London, Chilterns in High Wycombe and Broadmarsh in Nottingham have also closed. Elsewhere in Europe, France, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Norway have all reported downturns with around 18 shopping centres closing down. While up -market malls are likely to survive, the rest are having to innovate to survive.

Getting people back into shopping centres

One of the best ways to bring people back to shopping centres is to have them live there. Here are just a few examples of malls which have looked to residential developments.

Residential Developments

In the USA, the Cinderella Mall in Denver has added a city hall, 440 apartments, medical centres, educational facilities and a light rail station. It has also created employment for 25,000 people

America’s first mall, Providence Mall on Rhode Island, has been converted to 38 micro apartments.

In Australia, the Glen Shopping Centre in Melbourne is adding 500 new homes and offices and combining them with leisure, dining and shopping facilities. Also in Melbourne, the Chadstone Shopping Centre which already has a twelve storey, five star hotel and office towers, has now put its $450 million Sky Garden apartments on top. 

Brentwood Mall in Vancouver, Canada is adding 11 towers of residential apartments and two office blocks. 

[Incidentally, Boston is making it a requirement that developers must include childcare facilities in new commercial buildings in the city or provide cash payments for their establishment elsewhere. This could be an excellent idea for other jurisdictions which want to encourage more women in the workforce]. 

Such “Lifestyle Centres” which enable people to live, work, shop and find entertainment in one place are likely to become even more popular as fuel costs rise, but that is by no means the only way in which malls are finding new life. 

More than just shopping

Even malls that haven't gone down the accommodation route are thinking up new ways to get people through the door. Some offer novel activities such as VIP nights, DJs or changing pop up stores to keep people coming back. Others are adding more permanent facilities such as gyms, daycare, medical services, gaming arenas and co -working spaces, to make them one -stop shops and de facto town centres.

Sports, recreation and cultural activities 

 eijer in Greenville, Michigan is now an indoor BMX track. Hickory Hollow in Antioch, Tennessee has an indoor a skate rink. Boston's Liberty Tree Mall, among the first in America, has added a trampoline park. Across the Atlantic, a suburban mall in Paris, has added laser tag, a karaoke bar, a climbing wall and trampolines.

At Vancouver Mall in Washington D.C. a Japanese consortium plans to add a karaoke bar, a pool hall and a bowling alley and it is already host to an art school and a branch of the library.The Lakeforest Mall in Maryland is home to live theatre productions and a gallery. Westfield’s Knox Shopping Centre in the outer suburbs of Melbourne will also be adding a library, co - working office space, medical, financial, art and recreational facilities. A swim school is also planned.

Bucharest’s Colosseum, Romania’s largest mall has added a casino, a multiplex cinema, a fitness centre and children’s playgrounds. It is in the process of adding more office and commercial space. 

Read about the transformation of an enclosed urban shopping centre in Barcelona to an integrated town centre which includes sport and recreation, commerce, cultural activities, playgrounds, technology and dining here.

Other ways in which malls have reinvented themselves

Some have become hospitals and medical centres. A former Walmart in Fort Wright Kentucky, for example, has become the Christ Hospital and Outpatient Centre. Nashville's 100 Oaks Mall is now a medical centre. 

Others are turning into schools and educational facilities. The Highland Mall in Austin Texas for example, has become part of the the Austin Community College. Life Science Centres are springing up in several parts of the UK. See for example, what's happening in Cambridge.

The sacred and profane 

Churches are also taking up vacant retail space. Lakes Church in Lakeland, Florida is one of several which have snapped up whole shopping centres. A former Sam's Club in Olathe, Kansas has become the home of the Heartland Community Church.
Commerce takes pride of place in others. Some shopping centres are turning into offices, techno hubs and distribution centres. In 2019 Google leased the Westside Mall in Los Angeles to turn it into additional office space. It recently also purchased the former Mayfield Mall at Mountain View, California which it has been leasing since 2013.

Between 2016 and 2019 Amazon has converted no less than 25 American malls into distribution centres and plans to convert several more.

Down to earth

Among the more original reuses of large areas of retail space is its conversion to indoor green houses. Aerofarms in New Jersey for example, has developed indoor vertical farms in a number of vacant buildings, including abandoned malls. 

In a similar vein Wilder Fields is converting a former Target Store in Calumet, Illinois to an indoor farm. In Michigan's Copper County Mall in Houghton, a marijuana dispensary is growing its own product on site, and in Detroit, the Central Detroit Christian Farm and Fishery has established an indoor fish farm at a former retail location. 

As may be seen from the above, while many malls are languishing, it is also an opportunity to create something better.