NPR Story
12:20 pm
Mon December 2, 2013

What Happens To Failed Shopping Malls?

Successful malls can be some of the most bustling places in America: enclosed commercial districts that are “people magnets,” with packed parking lots and a variety of popular shops, department stores and restaurants.

But over the years, online shopping and a roller coaster economy have turned many malls into ghost towns.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, David C. Barnett of WCPN examines the afterlife of some malls in Northeast Ohio.

Reporter

  • David C. Barnett, reporter and producer for WCPN in Cleveland.
Copyright 2013 WBUR-FM. To see more, visit http://www.wbur.org.

Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

Well, until the drones arrive, incoming, you can go to the mall, as 141 million people did during the holiday weekend. Some malls are bustling, but online shopping and the tough economy have turned others into ghost towns. WCPN's David C. Barnett from the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network has found a mall in northeast Ohio with an afterlife.

DAVID C. BARNETT, BYLINE: Larry James recalls Euclid Square Mall, just east of Cleveland, was hopping when he was a teenager.

LARRY JAMES: The parking lot was full, people all over the place, great place to sit down and look at the water fountains and girl watch, you know, back in those days. But then I saw it just, it just died, you know.

BARNETT: The fountains were shut off years ago. Former fast-food stands now sit shuttered, and tuxedoed mannequins in store windows stare out at empty walkways. Euclid Square was part of a mall-building boom in the 1970s, and it had a great location, near the intersection of two major interstates.

But then came Great Lakes Mall, just a few highway stops away, and Richmond Town Square, just four miles down the road. Real estate broker Kevin Cooney says that proved attractive to one of the Euclid mall's major tenants.

KEVIN COONEY: May Company had a 25-year commitment to keep the doors open, and when their 25 years were up, then they moved to Richmond. And that was the first shoe to drop, so to speak.

BARNETT: And the shoes kept dropping until the end of September, when Euclid Square's last anchor store, a Dillard's outlet, finally shut down. Cooney says the owner has been trying to unload the 71-acre property for years but hasn't found any buyers.

Cleveland State Professor of Real Estate Development Robert Simons says an empty mall is a burden not only to the property owner but to the community around it.

ROBERT SIMONS: Eventually it'll be assessed by the tax authorities at lower than it was, which means its proportionate share of property taxes will go down, and it'll have fewer jobs. That means that the income taxes will go down.

BARNETT: Rolling Acres, a once popular mall on the southwest side of Akron, is also largely abandoned now. The Summit County fiscal office reports that the Akron schools are annually losing more than $67,000 in taxes from the deteriorating property, which is the subject of several YouTube commentaries, such as this one featuring a tour though the potholed parking lot.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Oh geez, big pile of brush over there. I mean, people just dump - look at that, there's a couch.

Tell you what, if you ever need a couch, come on out here.

BARNETT: Akron's Deputy Mayor of Economic Development Robert Bowman says any hope of re-using the land will depend on untangling who owns what.

DEPUTY MAYOR ROBERT BOWMAN: Sears, Penny's, Dillard's and Target, those were the big box stores that anchored where the mall was, and they were owned individually. So it creates a problem in re-development, and that's entering a foreclosure process, we believe.

BARNETT: Across the country, communities have gotten inventive in finding new ways to re-frame former malls. Aquariums, schools and casinos have moved into spaces formerly occupied by shoe stores, record shops, and restaurants. One of the more unusual adaptive re-uses can be found back at Euclid Square Mall, which is now home to 24 Christian congregations

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Unintelligible)

BARNETT: Leonard Rowe is pastor for one of the newest churches to move in, New Vision Missionary Baptist. He says it's a similar concept to the traditional storefront church that can be found throughout the inner city, but in this case it's climate controlled, and the parishioners feel safer.

LEONARD ROWE: You know, it's something that's appealing to the people because people mostly came to the mall to do shopping. And here we're just letting them know you can come shop for the Holy Ghost now. You don't have to shop for clothes.

BARNETT: Real estate expert Robert Simons is dubious about the long-term economic viability of a mall full of churches and thinks there are probably better ways to go.

SIMONS: The best one is probably to scrape the site flat and just build housing on it or build whatever the market - you know (unintelligible) best uses.

BARNETT: Of course not all malls in northeast Ohio are dead. Summit Mall in suburban Akron keeps pulling in customers, as does Great Northern in North Olmsted. And the formerly failing Parmatown Mall in suburban Cleveland recently got a $2 million loan from the Cuyahoga County Council for a makeover that will include a name change to The Shoppes at Parma - that's shoppes with an E at the end.

At a time when on-line retail has reduced the need to physically go to stores, and young people meet their friends on Facebook instead of by the fountains, a mall needs every advantage it can get. For HERE AND NOW, I'm David C. Barnett.

YOUNG: So what about you? Is there a so-called dead mall in your community that is annoying you, making you sad? Maybe it was someplace that you used to hang out. There's a website, Jeremy, it's kind of morbid, but it's deadmalls.com. They chronicle hundreds of already or soon-to-be-dead malls. They say they have to expand substantially because there are just too many malls in America closing. Let know if one is yours at hereandnow.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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