As architects who have completed lots of projects for retail, we are often approached by mall owners looking to resurrect properties by turning them into mixed-use developments. The truth is that while mixed-use can be a fix for troubled malls, it’s not an easy fix.
One must have a deep understanding of a specific marketplace to design the mixed-use project that will work — or if it will work at all. Owners must be prepared to consider creative design and construction solutions and to accommodate the unique demands of non-retail tenants looking to adopt retail formats and efficiencies. The ability to navigate leasing and zoning complexities is a must.
If marketplace conditions are right and the correct formula is employed, mixed- use can be the answer. Even dilapidated properties can be totally reimagined. The Town and Country Mall in Houston’s Citycentre, by way of example, was successfully redeveloped into a vibrant mixed-use development with new retail, apartments, town homes, and offices.
Integrating mixed-use is much more art than science. While hotel, residential, and medical office are three of the most common uses being incorporated in new and renovated malls, not every component is a good fit for every project and sub-categories in each segment can complicate design, development and leasing decisions.
Redevelopment projects can be especially tricky. Taking existing structures that weren’t originally designed for residential or hospitality uses and finding a cost-effective way to modify them is no small technical challenge. For example, floor-to-floor heights may be less than ideal to transform the space and the layout and traffic flow of the site may present difficulties.
Flexibility is necessary as the retail industry evolves, so buildings should be designed with that in mind. Whether it’s a parking structure designed to lend square footage to a future office building, or increased loading of a structural slab to accommodate a change of uses, designing infrastructure and structural systems with flexibility should be top-of-mind.