New trends on the mall scene

Although some shopping malls are in need of recycling or major remodeling (see main story), the vast majority - 82 percent - are doing quite well, thank you, according to a recent study.

Nevertheless, developers are already beginning to stake out a new course for the design of these complexes.

"Hybrid malls" are perhaps the hottest concept in the industry. They are an attempt to conjoin large enclosed malls with an outdoor urban streetscape retail/entertainment component, with such attractions as multiplex cinemas, ice rinks, children's playscapes, and themed restaurants.

The International Council of Shopping Centers, based in New York, is calling this trend "the first major shift in regional mall configuration since 1956." In other words, since Southdale Center in Edina, Minn., became the first fully enclosed, climate-controlled mall with competing anchor stores.

The advent of the hybrid mall is a sure sign that retailers realize that some shoppers have grown tired of the sameness and artificiality of indoor malls.

"Many national chains like Banana Republic, Restoration Hardware, and Crate & Barrel are actively seeking what is called village retail," says Bob Gibbs, whose company, the Gibbs Planning Group, specializes in retail development and market research. "Many of their customers, especially the Generation X and Baby Boomers, are saying, 'We're bored with the malls,' "

Hybrid malls pick up on the growing popularity of village-style shopping, with its connections to real communities.

New Urbanists often advocate creating mixed-use developments that incorporate village shopping, a strategy employed in plans to remake the Villa Italia mall in Lakewood, Colo. (see main story).

Developers of hybrid malls, on the other hand, are essentially creating streetscape-type shopping experiences as an enhancement and shopping option on the outside of ever-bigger malls.

What this means is that businesses that once were peripheral to the mall, such as full-service restaurants, major bookstores, cinemas, home-furnishings stores, and services are grouped together. Not in the same mega-building, but often in open-air pedestrian walkways leading to the mall entrances.

"We want someone to drop off their dry cleaning, have lunch, and buy a sweater; we're back to cross-shopping," Wally Chester of Westcor Partners, a mall developer, told Shopping Centers Today.

Malachy Kavanagh, a spokesman for the International Council of Shopping Centers, says the crossover strategy is increasingly employed by restaurants that issue beepers to customers so they can shop until seated.

Two of the newest hybrid malls are the Mall of Georgia in Buford, Ga., and Flatiron Crossing in Broomfield, Colo., which incorporates a 17-acre park, with bike and hiking trails, into the area's overall design.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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