creative mall uses

John Pattison

Elizabeth, a Strong Towns member and elected official in Washington, submitted this great question: 

Early this week, I learned that our city's mayor is sitting down with the new owner of a mall site which has largely been empty since the pandemic. 
Anticipating this meeting, I am working with leaders in our community to pull together a proposal for the mall owner of how the community would love to see that mall space used. One of the biggest gaps in our rural community is having things for junior high  and teenagers. This is a big felt need. 
We are dreaming of a mall space that is a private/public partnership that focuses on activities for families and specifically teenagers. We are envisioning entertainment focused businesses (trampoline park, laser tag, arcades, etc) combined with a non-profit teen space run by YMCA or Boy and Girls club. 
I am writing to you to see if you have heard of other communities that have worked towards re-use of a mall space in this particular way? Having an example of an economically sound business model  from another community would go a long way!  Thanks for your insights and no worries if not!



  • Comment author
    John Pattison
    • Official comment

    If you're interested in this topic, check out: 

    Something on the philosophy behind adaptation: the process itself must be adaptable, incremental, and fine-grained
    Something inspirational 
    Something to think about and a few warnings: "even if the Landmark redevelopment goes as planned, some serious challenges will remain, which is only natural when the road network around the mall reflects the expectation that everyone would drive to do their shopping.... Redeveloping sites like this is a great way to make areas of the region more walkable and transit-friendly, but new buildings alone cannot do it, especially when those new buildings are cut off from the larger community."
    And a question about whether your efforts can be better focused on using those public funds for your main street (have you slowed the cars on main street and opened up the code book to assess if the types of buildings you want to see are actually permitted to be built? Are indie movie theatres impossible because of archaic parking requirements? Are soda fountains, live music venues, barber shops, food trucks, etc. all easily established in your core?) 
  • Comment author
    John Pattison

    And Edward Erfurt, our Director of Community Action, offered the following thoughts: 

    I would love to learn a little bit more about the mall. It sounds like if the new owner is difficult to meet with, and there are obvious signs of struggles, the mall may be part of a larger land development investment fund and not a physical development project. A conversation with an investment group is very different from a conversation with a development group.
    Lots of communities are partnering with the private sector in all sorts of creative ways. It has become more common for cities to open libraries and community spaces within malls. In many cases, the property owner offers free or subsidized rent to the community. Malls are generally large footprint buildings that are ideal interim locations for libraries, indoor playgrounds and community meeting spaces. 
    These uses are a win for the property owner because they generate car trips to the mall that can attract new tenants. It also means a lower property tax bill and additional corporate write-offs for free or reduced rent. 
    Cities can be really innovative in their partnerships and where they make their investments. The struggle is that most cities are really bad at brokering or managing these deals. The other struggle is where do you want the city to focus its limited resources. 
    If the mall is struggling and the owner is not interested in a significant cash flow into the property, the city may want to stand back and let the markets work. If the owner is looking to make an investment and reimagine the mall, the city could be one of the first partners in that vision.   

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