MALLS HAVE A NEW LIFE


The closure of many smaller shopping malls or conversion to other uses reflects the swing to online shopping and popularity of big-box retailers like Wall Mart and Home Depot. A few major malls in populated areas have been converting to more of an entertainment center than a retailer center.

In down town San Diego an innovative large mall built in 1985 in a declining area downtown was a tremendous success with most of the major anchor stores as tenants. Horton Plaza was a state of the art, multilevel and attractive outdoor setting when it opened. It set the stage for a complete rehabilitation of downtown San Diego. The mall succeeded in the construction of the Padres ballpark, several high rise residential towers, and a large commercial section known as East Village.

The immediate success of Horton Plaza was the timing of its opening. The summer Olympics attracted thousands of visitors to Los Angeles for extended vacations, shoppers from Mexico flocked to the upscale retail stores and local citizens found a day at the mall good family entertainment. The opening night attracted thousands of curious residents and was called the city’s biggest open party.

The unique architectural design for Horton Plaza was based on an Italian village where visitors would wander through narrow streets and at different levels. It was possible to get lost getting from one level to another, and the large parking area was even more confusing with its fruits and vegetable designations.

Despite the success of the redeveloped area, Horton Plaza became a big white elephant with major retailers not renewing their leases. By Christmas time in 2071, there were no holiday decorations, music or customers shopping. So what is to become of this large space in a prime area of downtown?

The mall was purchased by a French firm that operates 35 U.S. malls. The new owner has upgraded the still popular malls but is considering a new use for a mall like Horton Plaza in a prime location. A panel of architects, city planners and real estate economists have met for this discussion.

The proposals include opening up the streets that were closed for the 900 acre mall site and convert some of the space into multi-use high-rise buildings. Although unique in its day, the fortress-like layout of Horton Plaza needs to be more accessible.

As the downtown area becomes more popular for living by the upcoming millennial generation, there continues to be a demand for urban housing and relocation of business facilities. It would be a major redevelopment of a large area requiring disruption in the center of downtown.

As retail shopping becomes more on-line, only a few large malls will remain competitive. If the site is fortunate to be in a populated area, the redevelopment for housing and business will be the principal option. Some major malls will retain a small portion for retail, restaurants and cinemas.

Consumer purchasing has forced a major change in American preference. I personally prefer the hands-on shopping still available in Europe. Fresh fruit and vegetables are displayed without plastic wrapping, and you ask the vendor to select the items you want for your cloth grocery bag. A similar situation is available at the local meat market and mokorai where the products are displayed for you to select without a lot of fussy wrappings. Of course this will never happen in our stores.

This prime site in the center of a vibrant downtown will no doubt be developed to accommodate the new lifestyle of the younger generations. The cost of condos and rental units will be beyond most new home shoppers. The city should require that each high-rise tower make available a certain number of low-cost units to help relieve the housing shortage.

The redevelopment of Horton Plaza will take several years and probably create controversy from the land use organizations that fail to recognize progress.