NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - If you spent your formative years at
the local shopping mall sipping Orange Julius and hanging out near
the ubiquitous water fountain, you might be sad to learn that the
mall as you know it is headed toward extinction.
Even former mall rats seem to think there are better ways to
spend a weekend than wandering through the windowless vestibules of
a non-descript mall, shopping in tired department stores and eating
food court fare.
When it opened in 1966 Villa Italia was ahead of its times.
It's now being rebuilt as
After turning our backs on Main Street and fleeing to the
suburbs, Americans are looking for a sense of place. We're fixing up
houses in the older parts of town and spending more of our free time
in newly-revived downtowns. And when we want to do serious shopping,
we head to upscale mega-malls and big-box stores such as Costco,
Home Depot and Target, even if it means driving a little farther.
That leaves smaller neighborhood malls -- many of which are
carbon copies of each other -- struggling to keep retailers from
packing up and following the crowds to downtown districts or mega
malls. Although some have managed to turn themselves around by
looking beyond Sears and J.C. Penney and bringing in the likes of
Ikea or Borders as anchors, more drastic measures are often needed.
(There's even a Web site, Deadmalls.com, dedicated to
tracking these doomed malls.)
Belmar will be more than just a mall when it opens next
So cities and developers have begun breaking up old malls,
turning their inner corridors into streets, bringing the storefronts
outdoors and integrating them with the rest of the city.
"Because they're often small, older malls can't provide the same
options for consumers," said Bill Anderson, vice president with
consultancy Economics Research Associates. "But once they're
redeveloped there is an opportunity to attract the growing number of
people who are frustrated with driving everywhere and want more
Turning the mall inside out
The Winter Park Mall in Winter Park, Fla., was a classic case of
a dying mall. The 400,000-square-foot mall was located in the heart
of the city's downtown. But with all of its stores facing in and a
huge parking lot surrounding it like a moat, it was completely
isolated from the rest of the town. As the nearby downtown shopping
district thrived, the mall failed.
In the late 1990s, a new owner, the city and local business
started making plans to break up the mall. Several phases into its
makeover, Winter Park Village, as it's now called, is not unlike its
surrounding downtown, with apartments, restaurants, a fitness
center, a movie theater, a supermarket, office space and, of course,
There are similar examples from across the country. Since local
governments are loath to see a mall go belly up because it
represents a huge loss of tax revenue, many are teaming up with
developers to make sure the space is put to the best use possible.
"You're talking hundreds of thousands of acres of land that
should be redeveloped," said real estate developer Will Fleissig,
co-founder and partner with Continuum Partners. "Doing nothing with
them is not an option."
Lakewood, Colo., for one, is playing a large role in the
redevelopment of Villa Italia, which was the largest mall west of
Chicago when it was built in the 1960s. By the early 1990s, however,
it became clear that the 100-acre dinosaur could not compete with
the area's newer malls, in part because it was not near a freeway
interchange and did not have the space to surround itself with
In 2001, most of the mall was demolished to make way for Belmar,
a mixed-use development that will have less retail space but nearly
double the square footage. When complete, Belmar will be an
extension of Lakewood's downtown, linked with city streets, bike
paths and walking paths.
And by putting housing, entertainment, office space and parks
into the mix, developers are creating demand for their retail
tenants. Even if you don't plan to go on a full-blown shopping
spree, you might just pop into the Gap for a new sweater while on
your way to dinner or a movie. Or so they hope.