the newsletter of tbd consultants - Autumn/Winter 2023
AI has been making headlines again recently, and here we take a look at how it is likely to affect design and construction.
Retail in general was starting to be disrupted by online shopping, and then Covid-19 hit and accelerated the adverse effects on malls. Downtown stores and restaurants often had the option of moving much of their business onto the street, but with malls, and especially indoor malls, that was normally not an available solution. The need for social distancing and a growing fear of being around other people suddenly and drastically cut the number of potential customers. Shuttered storefronts left mall owners wondering how to fill the vacated space. Even the anchor tenants were suffering. As the pandemic faded into history, the easing of restrictions made doing business easier, but shopping patterns and expectations had changed, and they are still evolving.
During the pandemic, Covid-19 testing stations was one valuable use for the available space, and health-related facilities have continued to appear in malls. That includes branch clinics associated with particular healthcare providers, dentists and opticians, and also yoga and meditation centers, massage facilities, and gyms. It could be said that mental health was being addressed by the incorporation of entertainment and recreational facilities into the mall, and those kinds of places can certainly make a visit to the mall more of an immersive experience.
Movie theaters also suffered during the pandemic, but "BarbHeimer" has shown that it is not an entertainment medium to be written off, and there are examples of anchor tenant space being converted into cinema/theater facilities. Such entertainment and alternate uses of mall space bring more potential customers into the mall. In that way, the mall becomes more of a multiuse facility, potentially making it a more attractive location for retail tenants.
In some cases, mall space has been converted into office space, often for startups. In at least a couple of cases, an entire mall was purchased or rented as a new campus for a company. Areas of a mall can also be made into space that people who are working remotely can utilize, and we mean more than simply the seating area outside of Starbucks. Banks have been making a physical appearance in malls, not just as ATMs. All this should bring in potential customers for the coffee shops and bakeries, and possibly for other businesses as well. Spaces for art exhibitions, car showrooms, and the like can be other ways of drawing people in and making the mall more of a community center. Such exhibits, which might be centered around cultural or local festivals, can also utilize vacant units that are awaiting a new tenant. Sometimes, malls and associated parking spaces have been rebuilt as office or residential space with retail below, but reuse is probably a more ecological method and kinder to the climate and future generations.
Malls might be seen as places for the worship of mammon, but some churches have seen the vacated space as an opportunity to base a congregation there. Normally that has involved taking limited space within the mall, but a complete mall has been adapted by one church to house its facilities and outreach programs. As in the case of office use, the ample parking space available proves to be very useful. Underused parking areas have been utilized for opportunities such as dedicated space for food trucks.
Technology has been driving many of the innovations, with mall owners modernizing their technology for wayfinding, in order to make the experience of visiting the mall better and easier for the customers. The stores have been integrating their online presence and physical locations to make it easier for purchasers to browse the total merchandise list and have places to try things for size before buying, or to be able to exchange them more easily. Online sales have boosted the need for more warehousing facilities, and empty mall space, especially that of former anchor tenants, can prove ideal for that use. Self-storage is a similar usage that empty mall space has successfully met the need for.
We are likely to see more augmented reality options being made available, along with other interactive displays. For instance, you might be able to try out products or change the color of clothing in a virtual environment. And, of course, the marketeers will be finding more ways to gather information about your wants and needs and provide you with special offers available at the store that you are approaching, maybe with a virtual storefront showing the product to you. Smart parking systems can help you locate a parking space when you arrive, and maybe even help you locate your car when you leave.
Malls tend to be well located for public access, and have great potential as centers for the community, while still providing retailers with outlets. Adaptive reuse of the facility has become the name of the game, including options related to education (from small training locations to an academic campus), hospitality, and residential (including multifamily, and senior living). These types of usage are not really a new idea - thinking of malls as social hubs goes back to at least the 1940s, and malls need to continually adapt to the community they serve.
The financial markets are still in flux, and we examine how the odds are shifting for various outcomes; are we headed for recession, stagflation, or a soft landing?
Design consultant: Katie Levine of Vallance, Inc.