The shopping mall industry is in the midst of a “seismic shift” that is shaping up to be as destructive as your typical earthquake. As large, anchor department stores shutter their locations and focus on a greater online presence, mall landlords struggle to fill available retail space. The result can leave a mall abandoned or with sections deliberately shut down, to focus on the few retailers that struggle to remain in business. Many in the retail industry thus wonder about what will be next for these large, abandoned retail spaces. Developers in Texas think they may have the answer.

In North Dallas, a traditional mall complex has been cleared away, as part of a new $3.5 billion development that includes restaurants, offices, and housing options. The developer hopes the entertainment and employment options will lure patrons to the previously abandoned space—and then that they might like it well enough to make their homes there.

Grapevine Mills in North Texas is a mall property that similarly has shifted away from simply hosting retail stores. It now includes an aquarium, a Legoland, a bowling alley, and a sports complex. The reimagined mall cites an “experiential” formula as the way for such properties to move forward in the shifting economy. The idea is that if they can attract families to the location to experience fun dining and entertainment options, those consumers will stick around to shop in retail stores too.

In Austin, Texas, the Highland Mall is getting creative about how to best use abandoned space too. As part of a $900 million public–private initiative, some of the old mall will now be used as a satellite campus for Austin Community College. Currently the repurposed facility supports 6,000 students each semester, and when the project is complete, this number will increase to 20,000 students.

The golden age of retail thus might not ever return for malls, but with some creative thinking, these spaces can be repurposed to appeal better to the changing tastes of the American consumer. The end result ultimately might be even more profitable. They just have to dream big—like they do in Texas!

Discussion Question:

  1. How are mall developers repurposing failing malls?

 Source: David Montgomery, The New York Times, June 20, 2017