NORWALK Conn. – The first time I ever heard the word “mall” was when I was a child – maybe 5 years old, maybe 10 – and it was in Miami Beach. My parents were taking me over to Miami Beach and a place called Lincoln Mall, where there were stores, restaurants and – hold on, now – NO CARS!
Yep. A strange concept for a kid from Cape Cod, this Main Street that was more like a Main Sidewalk (note to DPW: It was WAY more than 7 feet…).
There were kiosks with information, and big planters and tall palm trees lit with colored lamps, and it was all outdoors!
So THIS is a mall? COOL!
The next mall I heard about was coming to Cape Cod, on the outskirts of Hyannis, near the airport. And, sadly, it would be all indoors, and not anywhere near as pretty as Lincoln Mall, which, by then, was being called Lincoln Road, probably because “mall” was losing its luster.
Oh, the Cape Cod version had some good stuff – mostly restaurants and some clothing stores that had stuff I actually liked and could afford. But the mall experienced the Great Migration, not just of shoppers, but the teenagers who used to hang out on Main Street, making life unpleasant for all who passed who weren’t part of the crowd. Not my idea of a good time – sitting on the wall in front of Filene’s, smoking, being loud and making rude remarks to people passing by, leaving trash behind.
I was such a straight kid.
So I was never a mall rat. I tolerated malls. Now and then I’d find one in my travels that was glitzy and inviting, but, at their heart, they were all just pigs with lipstick, indoor shopping centers where you could find stores that were 50 Shades of The Gap. I began to avoid them whenever possible. And now, as a great number of these dinosaurs of capitalism are mired in the economic tar pits, we find ourselves bearing witness to an effort to resurrect the beasts, to keep them from extinction. Norwalk may not be Ground Zero for the rescue effort, but it is, without doubt, a target.
There’s a perfectly good piece of property by one of the most heavily traveled highways in America, General Growth Properties and its local lawyer and legislator, Larry Legend (oh, could you BELIEVE that??? I mean, really, folks. Larry BIRD? HE’s Larry Legend. So just stop it.), are convinced will be part of the Shopping Mall Revival of 2015.m Or 16. Or 22… (see “Xanadu”)
The GGP people have made the rounds in Norwalk, showing off their mallnificent plans, making changes to mollify the citizens, with the occasional mallevolent comment surfacing about the land just sitting empty for another decade if the Land Disposition Agreement is not altered – well blown up and rewritten – to make a mall work.
Some Norwalkers have bought into the plan. Others see it as just so much mallarky (OK, now I’ll stop…).
But Norwalk isn’t the only city in America that is targeted for The Next Great Mall. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune, one of my former employers, ran a piece recently about a new mall destined for that city on the Gulf of Mexico. The mall, it appears, will have some things in common with the proposed Norwalk project – glass and glitz. It won’t have the same developer (Taubman Centers is running that show). And it apparently has elements of a couple successful Florida malls, one in Orlando, the other in Tampa.
Turns out Sarasota may be part of a trend. While the countryside is strewn with the corpses of shopping malls, there are some notable exceptions – the Shopping Freaks of Nature.
Click here for some GGP properties: GGP collection
- Providence Place, built in 1999, is the 1.3 million-square-foot House That Buddy Built, part of a whole bunch of goodies then-Mayor Buddy Cianci brought to the failing city to stop the descent and turn the little Rhodey state capital into a City on the Move. Of course, Buddy moved, too, into the federal pen. The mall is a success – and Cianci, a two-time loser in the felony/jail time sense, is making another run at City Hall. Some former mayors just don’t know when to quit.
- The Towson Town Center in Maryland has hints of what the Norwalk mall might be like, fronting on a road. There is a Cheesecake Factory in the picture. If that comes with the Norwalk mall, I could be had.
- There’s a big glass wall in the Streets at Southpoint in Durham, N.C. There’s an expansive glass wall at the Beverly Center in L.A., providing great views from the escalators. And of the Escalators.
There are several other GGP malls. Many of these are renovations, because, after all, who’s building new malls these days?
And then there’s Taubman Properties, running malls such as Westfarms in Farmington, the Mall at Short Hills, NJ, Charleston Place in South Carolina, and Town Center in Stamford, among others.
So malls, like newspapers, are not quite ready to give up the ghost. But the question Norwalk has to answer is, are they just whistling past the graveyard?