Why must Southwyck stay a mall?Written by Maggie Thurber | Toledo Free Press Writer | firstname.lastname@example.org
In doing some catching up on my reading, I came across a blurb in the Sept. 5 “Plots & Ploys” section of the Wall Street Journal about what can be done with old indoor shopping malls.
As the article said, “One trend is to raze them and build town centers that offer a mix of retail, residential and office space.” Sound familiar?
It was in the 1950s that indoor malls started sprouting up all across the country. In 1960, there were 3,000 shopping centers in the United States, and 4 square feet of retail space for every American. By 2000, there are nearly 40,000 shopping centers and 19 square feet of retail space per capita. Between 1988 and 2000, shopping space increased
34 percent, to a total of more than 5 billion square feet.
But by 2002, trends had changed. Many of the malls of the 1960s and 1970s were now losing customers. Old malls started to be converted to new uses or were razed to make way for other buildings. Today, almost no enclosed malls are being built. Instead, the focus has shifted to so-called lifestyle centers, which are open-air, pedestrian-friendly shopping venues with easier parking and more entertainment functions, such as restaurants. Retailers like lifestyle centers because they attract higher-end consumers and the common-area costs are much lower. Regional mall owners are increasingly converting their old fortress-style malls to hybrids by knocking down shuttered department stores and adding lifestyle-center elements.
And as we look around our community, we see the same trend with the new Levis Commons, Fallen Timbers and the planned Marina District — all with mixed uses of residential, business and retail. And, of course, such a design is planned for Southwyck Mall.
But is this the only option for an old mall? Consider the assets — large open spaces inside a good structure, room to convert the insides to any purpose, food-service facilities, good HVAC, plentiful parking, traditionally strategic location. If we “think outside the box,” what potential uses might malls present if we look at these “assets,” rather than at the functions they’ve served?
One San Antonio company has done just that — and the results? The 1.2 million-square-foot Windsor Park Mall is now the new corporate headquarters for Rackspace, a company that manages the Web sites of major corporations. “A mall is designed for people to move around,” said Graham Weston, the company’s chairman. “We think it’s going to make the perfect campus.”
Why couldn’t we approach the owners of Southwyck (or even the old Northtowne Mall, for that matter) with the same — or similar concepts? Wouldn’t such a business generate more long-term benefit to the community than a mall, especially with two similar mall designs so close by? Northtowne Mall owners have already rezoned a large portion of the old mall to light industrial, which presents a rather creative opportunity.
Imagine the possibilities. A company would be able to utilize as much space as needed, they’d have room for their own training facility and could even add apartment-like facilities for customers or employees having to travel to the site. There’d be plenty of room for exercise, day-care facilities or other such amenities companies now offer to their employees.
Recently, Barry Broom, former economic development director for the City of Toledo and currently president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, was in Toledo with some advice. He said we have to stop doing things the same old way — looking for short-term solutions to long-term problems.
We need to be more creative in our approach to issues. The idea that defunct malls could become company campuses is an example of such thinking — and worthy of further discussion.
Maggie Thurber is host of “Eye on Toledo,” 6 p.m. weeknights on WSPD 1370 AM. She blogs at the Web site http://thurbersthoughts.blogspot.com.