(ARA) – There is new promise for the nation’s malls.
A fixture throughout America’s cities and towns for decades, the conventional mall is in a state of decline. It is possible to rethink yesterday’s malls with a creative vision that will return them to their prominent place in communities and realize lasting social, cultural and economic value.
For example, just this summer, the former Santa Monica Place in Santa Monica, Calif., was transformed into a new center that, while operated like a mall, feels and functions like a part of the city.
Many of the nation’s estimated 1,500 large malls are hurting financially, and hundreds are on the verge of collapse. Low sales, high vacancies and decreased patronage are some of the collective problems of the nation’s malls often referred to as the “dead mall” phenomenon.
“We’re seeing the inevitable end of the conventional mall, which was never a sustainable concept,” says David Rogers, design architect of Santa Monica Place and partner at The Jerde Partnership, an architecture firm specializing in retail design. “Everything about the mall, from the layout to the conditioned space to the convenient parking was manipulated to get people to spend money. Overlooked, unfortunately, were the equally important ideas of how to design malls as experiences that would attract people, and keep them entertained longer.”
The conversion of an old mall into a vibrant new center requires more than a simple refurbishing. Because each site presents a unique set of challenges that must be carefully navigated, mall revitalization can be a complex undertaking that takes commitment, determination, and dedication. Elements for success include collaboration with local constituents, connecting and extending the city’s pedestrian circulation and creating a design character that reinforces the attributes of the locality.
Santa Monica Place was a three-level, enclosed center containing two department stores, a food court, a central courtyard and escalators strategically placed to require shoppers to walk past the smaller storefronts. For nearly two decades, Santa Monica Place did not live up to its potential despite its proximity to Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica Pier and the beach, which attract millions of visitors annually. Retail developer Macerich acquired Santa Monica Place in 1999 and in 2002 embarked on an effort to transform it.
The mall was literally and physically opened up to reconnect it to the downtown core. The roof was removed to take advantage of the favorable climate, and the project’s primary path was designed as a street that effectively extends the Promenade and will trigger greater pedestrian activity into the project and amongst the city’s popular attractions.
Large communal spaces were formed in the center of the project – which features a large plaza for exhibits, performances and other events – and on the roof – which features a public dining deck that offers sweeping views of the ocean and mountains that are generally found only in restricted access places, like hotels and restaurants. High-end department stores Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s are new to the city, as well as more than 100 additional retailers that cater to local shoppers and give local flavor.
In keeping with the city’s environmental sensibilities, it is one of the few retail centers that is designed to meet domestic sustainability criteria set out by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). Executive architect, Omniplan, prepared the construction documentation to satisfy the LEED requirements.
The eight-year effort behind Santa Monica Place is paying off. At a time when many malls are permanently closing their doors, thousands of people attended the opening of the new Santa Monica Place, and many of them waited in line for hours before the doors opened.
“The resurrection of dying malls requires that we reimagine the whole notion of a mall,” says Rogers. “No matter where the mall is located, it can be recreated as a living heart that blends into the fabric of its city and creates a memorable destination for the city and the people who live, work and visit there.”
Courtesy of ARAcontent