As enclosed malls across the country look to reinvent themselves, some communities are finding that living in a mall could be a boon for property values.
Those massive, enclosed malls popular in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s are dying off. More shoppers are buying online, instead of heading to walk the mall. Foot traffic among the largest malls in the country is plummeting. Stores are closing and some entire malls are going dark. About 200 malls have closed in the past two years across the country, says Ellen Dunham-Jones, an urban design professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. About 1,100 enclosed malls are left in the country, she says.
But what does a community do when it has up to 1.2 million square feet of vacant retail space in a prime area of town? Nearly 300 former malls have converted or are in the process of converting to mixed-use developments, and 50 or so are adding in housing, Dunham-Jones says.
Closed malls are being transformed into public parks, medical complexes and even hockey rinks. They’re being reimagined as walkable “urban developments in the suburbs,” outfitted with boutiques, restaurants, fitness centers, entertainment and housing.
Developers are eyeing shopping malls as prime real estate, particularly at a time when land has gotten scarce and pricier for new construction. At 50 to 100 acres, including parking lots, a closed mall could be a bargain, and it’s already about the size of a planned community or subdivision.
“The dead malls and the dead parking lots are the new cheap land,” Dunham-Jones says. “A lot of developers are finding land that’s already been cleared. It’s flat; it’s already got some infrastructure on it [such as utility lines].”
There are already several success stories to point to with the revitalized suburban mall. For example, the Boca Mall in downtown Boca Raton, Fla., was razed in 1989. Two years later, it became Mizner Park, a 30-acre project with shops, restaurants, office space and nearly 300 housing units. Property values skyrocketed about 14 times in 12 years after its opening.
In another project, the Arcade Providence in 2013 was transformed into 48 affordable microapartments on the second and third floors and had boutiques on the ground floor. Median home prices near the arcade surged about 39 percent the year it opened in 2013, according to the Rhode Island Association of Realtors® & State-Wide MLS.
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