The Future of Shopping Malls & Centers Forum
Held on August 8, 2017 at the DoubleTree Hilton, Rockland
It is no secret that the retailing world is changing. Shifting business models by national retailers and evolving consumer preferences around the “shopping experience” are being felt by malls and shopping centers everywhere. Those are interesting business stories. The Chamber is particularly interested in a different story. How will changes in retail real estate affect other economic and community development goals?
Far from facing decline, the Chamber believes retail real estate offers exciting opportunities to re-shape development in local communities and the region. Large retail spaces are incorporating non-traditional uses to draw more people and become new community centers. Locally we have seen food compete with fashion as the major draws to shopping centers. Nationally the trend is for even more integration of retail with other lifestyle needs including housing, medical services, education and recreation. As we heard from Michael McCarty of Simon (South Shore Plaza) “Malls are becoming Alls.”
At a Chamber forum on retail real estate we heard several perspectives around the future of malls and shopping centers.
- Retailers are dealing with a generational gap in timing—boomers are slowing down discretionary spending and millennials are only slowly ramping up to replace the amount of spending.
- Internet is not the death of bricks and mortar – retailers need physical presence but changing how they use physical locations.
- Lease structures with large tenants are trending to shorter commitments suggesting turnover may be more common and large vacancies more common.
- The malls/centers that are surviving and thriving are adapting with some re-uses.
- Re-purpose or expanding activities stimulate investment in surrounding properties.
- Some re-uses can create more jobs and tax revenue than traditional big store retail.
- Zoning is usually antiquated and somewhat contradictory to integrating new uses in retail space and that needs to be addressed. Any changes to use and footprint requires active public engagement and local collaboration prior to decision making by local officials.
The South Shore Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Corporation see several strong intersections between the South Shore 2030 plan and the evolution of retail real estate. The possibility of integrating new residential development near or even some malls and centers is exciting. What better way to create amenities for residents than building housing next to where the amenities are? Housing growth –and the right type of housing --near centers of activity are also essential to our regional economic strategy. The potential for becoming stronger community centers open up appealing opportunities for new interesting places to live or work—one of the important strategies for attracting younger people to the South Shore. Of course, part of community development is being a good neighbor. The Chamber wants to promote changing uses that incorporate broader economic planning for the area.