The factors driving the retail-to-housing transformation started years ago but have been accelerated by the pandemic. The decline of malls and shopping malls has also been compounded by the shift to online retail in recent years.
The mainstream retail crisis has become an overwhelming challenge and opportunity for municipalities, property owners, managers and developers. According to Coresight Research, more than 8,000 stores have closed by 2020, after 9,500 closed last year. Mall stalwarts like Bed Bath & Beyond, GNC, Pier One Imports, Men’s Wearhouse, and New York and Company are in various bankruptcy and restructuring states. Department stores like Neiman Marcus and Lord & Taylor are on a long list of retailers that are closing down.
Ellen Dunham-Jones, professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, has examined the trend towards conversion. Retail closings across the country have resulted in 400 retrofit proposals, 315 of which are completed or in progress. Notable examples are the Ridge House Apartments in Wheat Ridge, Colorado; the PathStone Skyview Park Apartments in Irondequoit, NY (on old Sears grounds); and Aljoya Thornton Place in the former parking lot of Northgate Mall in Seattle, which was one of the first regional shopping centers in the country and is still operating.
Professor Dunham-Jones writes about Folkestone in “Suburb Retrofit Case Studies,” her upcoming book with Prof. June Williamson of the City University of New York. She noted that not only did the complex occupy a former retail space, it also took a more progressive turn in its design.
According to Professor Dunham-Jones, seniors are increasingly demanding more activity and environmentally sensitive and accessible communities than confiscated, gated, or golf course developments that require driving everywhere.
“Baby boomers don’t want to be isolated,” she added. “You want to be connected to the community.”
While it takes years to plan, fund, and approve retail renovations, “communities recognize the need to rebuild initiatives for their vulnerable populations,” said Emily Roberts, assistant professor at the Oklahoma College of Education and Human Services State University.
She is an advisor on a plan for the Crossroads Mall in Oklahoma City, a location that owners have found it difficult to develop. A 2017 rebranding failed, and now the community is working to transform the 800,000-square-foot facility into a facility modeled on a Dutch community tailored for people with dementia.