SUMMIT PLACE MALL / PONTIAC MALL: WATERFORD, MI
Pete Szerszen's Commentary
Posted December 3, 2005 (user submitted)
Summit Place Mall
315 North Telegraph Road
Waterford, MI 48328
Summit Place Mall has had many transformations through the years. It all started in 1963 as a small indoor center with Hudson's and Montgomery Ward and about a dozen stores in between. It was built in an ideal location off of Telegraph Road which was the main drag of the western Detroit suburbs experiencing rapid growth at that time. Summit Place had plenty of room to grow into the surrounding farmland and grow it did, first in 1973 by adding a Sears store to the North end of the mall (though it was not attached to the mall). In 1988, the mall began to see a significant transformation as a JC Penney opened west of Ward's, and this anchor was actually connected to the mall. Also in 1988, construction started on a massive expansion at the mall that would more than double the size and include a new Kohl's and Service Merchandise store, all the while connecting to the existing Sears. The "new" Summit Place opened in September, 1990 to great fanfare. It's easy to say that Summit Place Mall was the place to be in the '90s. Shortly thereafter, as part of the Summit Place Mall master planned development, retail space opened on three sides of the mall with Oakland Pointe in 1990, Summit West in 1991 and Summit North in 1993 (which was home to the first Best Buy in Michigan). By 1994, Summit Place Mall had gone from 600,000 sq. ft. to well over 2,000,000 sq. ft. combined with the surrounding exterial retail plazas. One of the most modern malls in Michigan at the time, it featured bright corridors, a full food court, and the trendy stores that offered just about anything the powerful Oakland County shopper would need.
It can be said that the first blow to Summit Place was the 1995 closure and bankruptcy of Builder's Square/HQ in Summit North. This left 135,000 sq. ft. of prime retail space abandoned. However, not being attached to the mall, the effect wasn't too significant. Summit Place continued prosperity well into the 1990s by being a regional mall that was a healthy alternative to the snootier Twelve Oaks Mall in Novi. In 1998, however, a significant blow came to Summit Place via the opening of Great Lakes Crossing in neighboring Auburn Hills. Great Lakes, being an indoor hybrid outlet/retail mall caused many tenants in Summit Place to relocate rather than having two stores in such close proximity. This being said, I strongly believe that Summit Place could have survived if Service Merchandise and Montgomery Ward's didn't file bankruptcy in 2001. By this time, the mall was at about 80% occupancy with three major anchors shuttered. Further consolidations by Farmer Jack and The Sports Authority left vacancies in the surrounding retail plazas. With increased competition and decreased draw, Summit Place very quickly went into a downward spiral and now boasts barely a 50% occupancy, albeit by several independent stores that really don't stand a fair chance. The mall site is littered with abandoned restaurants and outlots, many of which lasted only a few years. The 50% figure is from mall management, but taking a walk through the mall, I would suspect occupancy is actually much less. A portion of the mall (South Mall) has been shuttered. Most of the national chain stores have moved out, though the Kohl's store is still producing a fair amount of business. Perhaps if one of the entrances to the mall from Kohl's wasn't shuttered, shoppers might find themself walking through the mall.
Currently, Summit Place is anchored by Marshall Field's, Kohl's, JC Penney, and Sears. With Marshall Field's being purchased by Macy's, this newly-renovated store may find itself closed due in part to the existence of a Marshall Field's at The Somerset Collection, a galleria mall in nearby Troy and the planned expansion of the Field's at Twelve Oaks. I have been told by a mall employee that the Sears store plans to close and sell the building to mall developers who are currently planning to demolish the existing mall and replace it with a "Power Center" featuring new Kohl's and JC Penney stores, as well as condominium housing. Sears is the only store that owns their building, as was common practice for Sears in the 1970s. Earlier plans to build a water park attraction in the center of the mall have failed due to the lack of financing from Waterford Township. A new Michigan Law will allow owners of Summit Place to obtain a tax abatement for redevelopment of the mall.
Summit Place Mall has been a victim to changing comsumer tastes, increased local competition, a deteriorating neighborhood, and a poor Michigan economy.
It's a shame too, I have many childhood and teenage memories of the mall and was shocked to go back this week after not being there since 1998 (I moved to a different part of the state) and find the mall in such a condition. Summit Place will most certainly be the next casuality behind Wonderland Mall in the struggling Michigan shopping environment.
Gary Lewis's Commentary
Posted November 20, 2006 (user submitted)
I worked at Burger King in the Summit Place from 1980 to 1983 during high school. I didn't see a mention of the mall as "The Pontiac Mall," which I'm sure you know was the original name until that horrendous expansion.
Another note... The longtime manager of the daily operations was Mrs. McCarthy. She would walk around the mall at 9am and if you weren't open and ready to go, she would make note of it and contact the lessee or corporate office. Trust me on that, it's not heresay. My gate was slow to open a few times and she was standing there staring at me! LOL. She retired when the mall expanded, and in my opinion the entire upkeep of the mall slipped from then onward. There were a lot more hooligans hanging around and they started leasing space to "stores" that were more suited to the Dixieland Flea Market up the road -- places that sold "starving artist" oil paintings, seasonal crafts, etc.
Summit Place never attained full occupancy following the expansion. There were always painted murals covering storefronts at the Sears end since the grand re-opening.
I also remember the old Mall as having a base of 85 stores before it became Summit Place. That may have been with the JC Penny expansion.
One disagreement from your closing remark was about the neighborhood. Waterford does have a Master Plan in place, so the properties that are replaced now have to conform to specs like the short roadside signage and zoning rules. The neighborhoods (residential) around the Mall have stayed the same from when you left the area, or even improved. The stretch of Elizabeth Lake Road running east from Telegraph (where the old State Asylum "Clinton Valley" was), is now beautiful condos and single family homes. Oakland County schools and the Country have also expanded into new and refurbished buildings to the north of the Mall off Pontiac Lake Road. Additionally, Waterford Mott HS is just a mile away and added a multi million dollar pool complex and auditorium over the last five years. So overall, it's not a bad place to stay. Certainly downtown Pontiac still needs a lot of work, but that's a whole 'nother website!
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