Free Enterprise Staff  | October 16, 2014

The Shopping Mall Is Having A Renaissance

There’s been a lot of talk about the death of the shopping mall over the past couple of years. Yet while shopping centers are definitely suffering across the country, many are actually being reimagined in altogether innovative ways.

Though versions appeared in the U.S. as early as the 1800s, the shopping mall didn’t truly come of age in America until the mid-20th century when an Austrian-born architect designed what would become the template for the ubiquitous indoor mall. Opened in 1956, Victor Gruen’s Southdale Center in Edina, Minnesota was light-filled with a large central space that featured a goldfish pond—a design that represented a stark departure from that era’s typical outdoor strip malls, according to the documentary “10 Buildings That Changed America.”

The Southdale Center continued to serve as the defining model of the suburban shopping mall for more than 50 years. When the recession hit, a pullback in consumer spending devastated the economic model underlying the American shopping mall, causing many to close over the past few years.

A countermovement has recently sprung up, however, as innovative thinkers and businesses have reimagined the archetypal mall, resuscitating blighted shopping centers throughout the U.S. We’ve compiled a list of 5 shopping malls that have been resurrected from the dead to once again become bustling centers of commerce and hubs of economic activity.

1. East Rutherford, New Jersey, American Dream Meadowlands

Best known as the home of the National Football League stadium where the New York Giants and the New York Jets play, the Meadowlands is also the site of a project that aims to resurrect a moribund shopping mall development previously known as the Xanadu project. An unequivocal failure, construction on the mall had languished for years after a string of developers dumped nearly $2 billion into what was supposed to be a world-class shopping center, according to The New York Times. Spurred by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the project was revived last year when mall owner Triple Five Worldwide announced that it had forged a deal with the state to spend an additional $1.7 billion to resume work on the site and transform it into a worldwide travel destination. The company, which owns Minnesota’s Mall of America, among other shopping centers, is expected to complete the project—which has been rechristened American Dream Meadowlands, and will feature an amusement park, indoor water park and ski facilities—in 2016, according to The Record newspaper. 

2. Nashville, Tennessee, One Hundred Oaks

What do you do with an aging and increasingly obsolete shopping mall that is fortunately located in one of the country’s trendiest and most up-and-coming cities? That was the question faced by officials at Nashville’s One Hundred Oaks mall, which for years had struggled to reverse falling occupancy rates. In a serendipitous turn of events, however, one of the city’s largest employers, Vanderbilt University, happened to be looking to expand its renowned medical center to better serve its patient population. The university cut a deal to move into roughly half of the mall’s leasable space, where it has since opened nearly two dozen clinics, according to the Nashville Business Journal. The move has been a huge hit among the medical center’s patients, and it has also had a profound impact on the mall’s remaining stores, which have seen a sharp rise in business thanks to the uptick in foot traffic.

3. Cleveland, Ohio, Galleria at Erieview 

Cleveland has undergone a dramatic transformation over the past decade, with public officials, residents, and local businesses driving urban renewal projects across the city. Besides the emergence of trendy new neighborhoods, the city has also reimagined formerly underused buildings like the Galleria at Erieview, a once bustling shopping mall that had lost many of its tenants as the local economy stagnated. That all changed, though, when the mall’s marketing manager, Vicky Poole, devised a new way to take advantage of the mall’s glass galleria. According to National Geographic, Poole used a grant from Cleveland’s Civic Innovation Lab to install an urban garden and farmer’s market, turning what was once a derelict space into a hub of indoor agriculture. Since opening in 2010, the indoor farm has become a popular local draw, reports, preventing the mall from closing and creating jobs.

4. Santa Monica, California, Santa Monica Place

Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade is a familiar sight to the millions of people who visit the Los Angeles metropolitan area every year. Thanks to a major renovation, Santa Monica Place, the mall that sits at the edge of the city’s wildly popular shopping district, is also becoming a destination unto itself.  Santa Monica Place underwent an overhaul beginning in 2008, The Wall Street Journal reports, with developer Macerich investing heavily to create a mall fit for a 21st century consumer. Once enclosed, Santa Monica Place lost its roof during its two-year renovation that cost $265 million, according to the WSJ, and it now has open plazas, a revamped arsenal of stores, and a new food court featuring local, artisan stores. The new design has helped drive shoppers back to Santa Monica Place, and industry groups have also lauded its concept and design, awarding it the 2013 Best-of-the-Best VIVA Global Design and Development Award.

5. Providence, Rhode Island, The Arcade 

One of America’s first shopping centers, Providence’s Arcade is one of the oldest shopping malls to be reborn in the 21st century. Located in the heart of the Rhode Island capital, the shopping center had fallen on hard times following the recession, which hit the New England state particularly hard. Reacting to a drop in demand from storeowners, developer Evan Granoff converted the mall’s upper two floors into 48 apartments, according to CityLab. Aside from attracting a steady stream of daily visitors to the mall, the apartments are also affordable, with rents starting at $550 per month.