Resurrecting the Zombie Shopping Malls

Resurrecting the Zombie Shopping Malls

“Zombie” shopping malls, or “dead malls”, are multiplying. And it’s a major challenge to bring them back to life.


It’s a worldwide phenomenon. Shopping malls are falling like flies. Two hundred US malls disappeared in 2016 alone. According to REIS, the average vacancy rate in the United States was 9.1% at the beginning of the year, with rents similar to those of 2006! Of the 1500 current US shopping centers, 10% will disappear within the next two years, say the CoStar Group real estate analysts, as quoted by the New York Times. There is even a website dedicated to the subject:


There are many reasons for this, including the radical transformation of the retail industry (the domination by companies listed on the stock market that are fuelled by sweat shops in poor countries, the gradual disappearance of historical giants, online shopping and sales), the 2008 economic crisis and the migration of the middle class into deprived suburbs of poor people.


While some shopping centres can be used as the setting for zombie movies (many have been rented for this purpose!), others are running at full speed. “If the families living nearby have reduced purchasing power, it is difficult to finance stimulus projects”, says Itzhak Ben-David, Professor of Finance at Ohio State University, as quoted by Cleveland. com.



Reviving a shopping mall that is losing momentum is difficult and risky business, the experts claim. When you lose giants like Sears or JC Penny and grass is growing in the cracks in the parking lot, it looks very bad. Yet huge parcels of land, strategically located near major roadways, provide undeniable advantages.


In fact, some struggling shopping centres are converted into warehouses for Amazon, university campuses, office buildings, hospital centres or churches. “I predict that three quarters of them will be converted according to lifestyle”, said Ben Conwell, a retail expert at Cushman & Wakefield, an American commercial real estate broker.


In fact, reviving a dead mall is more like avant-garde urbanism…



“Don’t drive there, live there!” was a headline in the Globe & Mail this past May. The national daily reported about the redevelopment of the Honeydale Mall in Etobicoke, west of Toronto. Soon, there will be several condo towers, green spaces and new businesses along the streets.


“Cities are gradually moving from an automobile-dominated culture to mobility based on a mix of means of transportation,” said Brent Toderian, President of the Canadian Institute of Planners. Shopping centers surrounded by a sea of asphalt will be converted into urban green spaces, where public transport, walking, cycling and self-driving shuttles have replaced the automobile, which has been relegated, at worst, to underground parking lots.


Even better, hotels and theatres are being added, as was done at the Dix-30, in Brossard, which will soon become the Montreal South Shore terminal of the Réseau express métropolitain managed by the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec.


In Englewood, Colorado, a new downtown area was created on the former grounds of the Cinderella City Mall, once the largest west of the Mississippi. A light rail train now serves a civic center, apartment buildings and a smaller version of the old-fashioned shopping center, which is busier than ever.



New call-to-action



In Vancouver, 14 new 44-storey towers are being constructed in the skyline of the Oakridge Center, featuring green roofs, 2600 apartments, 500,000 square feet of office space, one million square feet of pedestrian street shopping and 10 acres of green space. Sales now total $1600 per square foot, the second highest in the country, according to its promoters.


In Virginia, Crosland Southeast has partnered with Richmond County authorities to convert a decaying mall into a new urban neighbourhood, with a Kroger supermarket, multiple apartment buildings with more than 1000 apartments, a Wal-Mart Supercenter and green space. Without the cooperation of elected officials, the more than $120 million USD project would not have seen the light of day, said H. Garrett Hart III, Director at Chesterfield Economic Development.


“Not all consumers want to buy online. The tactile experience of shopping, the crowd, the excitement remain in the collective psyche,” wrote Eric Rothman, manager at CenterSquare, in the Commercial Property Executive. Successful shopping malls adapt to the needs of their customers, who want great ambiance. “Malls must reinvent themselves, he said. Especially with events.”


On the menu: upscale restaurants, climbing centres, indoor theme parks, agorae for shows, tournaments, theatrical performances, circus activities, free yoga classes, family movies and giant interactive screens, like the three-storey Samsung 837 multimedia wall located in New Yorks Meatpacking District.


“These days, people are looking for a place with character and an identity. The traditional mall is the antithesis,” said city planner Cherie Enns, quoted by the CBC in a report about the successful conversion of a mall in Aldergrove, British Columbia.


By Stéphane Desjardins