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the future of retail post pandemic.

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Retail reset: The future of shopping malls

According to, America had 116,000 shopping malls in 2017. Since the 1970s, Americans have flocked to the suburban mall for a retail, dining and entertainment experience. But these out of town behemoths have served another purpose too, becoming much-loved meeting places and community hubs.

However, a combination of the rise of online retailers in the 2000s and the coronavirus pandemic has seen these once iconic destinations decline sharply in popularity. When bricks and mortar retailers shutter leaving vast swathes of real estate vacant, how can the shopping mall be repurposed for mixed use?

Innovation and opportunity

Instead of eyesores, innovative designers, developers and urban planners are seizing the opportunities offered by abandoned malls. Keying into the suburban locale and inherent nostalgic vibe, adaptive reuse and mixed use projects are reviving these retail icons.

So what's so appealing about these empty and somehow outdated buildings? Designed for multiple tenants and uses, malls have the square footage and infrastructure to support uses as diverse as office suites, civic spaces and lifestyle focused environments. These repurposed malls are energising these unused spaces with libraries and tech hubs, fitness centres and multi-family housing.

Reinvent, reuse and redevelop

Shopping malls across the country have been reinvented using new models of adaptive reuse and mixed use. The following are just a handful of the exciting repositioning initiatives that are currently in the works:

Urban technology & research centres

San Diego is one of the top three clusters in the country for life sciences, so when a Nordstrom store became available, it was the perfect opportunity for a $500 million mixed-use office and technology campus.

The demand for mixed use tech hubs has been foregrounded by the pandemic, with life science and biotech spaces predicted to rise. Large retail outlets with their extensive floorplates, robust mechanical and electrical services and natural light are a compelling backdrop.

Warehouse and logistics centres

The floorplate and acreage of shuttered malls are also ideal for conversion into warehouse and distribution centres which is why Amazon has been snapping them up to extend its network of fulfilment centers.

These centers may then play a transformative role in local economies, although opponents accuse them of robbing neighborhoods of valuable community space.  

Lifestyle-focused environments

This type of redevelopment continues to surge in popularity as developments like The Wharf bring together office space, entertainment, hospitality and mixed use spaces.

Convenient and walkable, developers are excited by the opportunities of malls to serve as integral components of future developments.

Non-traditional tenant suites

Dr Multimedia, digital marketers serving healthcare clients in La Jolla, California work out of repurposed retail space at the high end Westfield UTC mall. Employees enjoy the vibe of being co-located with amenities and services including a range of dining options and the opportunities to socialise and connect.

Entertainment destinations

As we emerge from the pandemic, the demand for human-centric and live entertainment opportunities is predicted to rocket. And while digital streaming and advances in technology and gaming platforms have made it easier to stay at home, we crave human contact and connection. Malls offer opportunities for multi-sensory installations, interactive themed hotels and other experiences we have yet to imagine.

Renewed purpose

As Americans settle into life post-pandemic, our preferences for how we live, work and play will continue to evolve. And those shifting priorities will impact our reuse and redevelopment strategies. The success and scope of those developments will depend on whether the private and public segments see the benefits and values of giving renewed purpose to old malls.


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