Breathing Life Into Dead Malls

 · 
April 19, 2024
 · 
2 min read
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The shopping mall, once known as the place to be, the epicenter of culture, etc., has slowly and steadily been dying over the past two decades. With the rise of online shopping, the convenience of finding everything you need in one place doesn’t seem so, well, convenient. Decreased foot traffic means the physical store is no longer essential, and stores are shutting their doors. But a mall closing doesn’t have to be the end of its story.  

The repurposing of vacant buildings is nothing new. However, the trend of retrofitting or repurposing shopping malls into affordable housing is picking up steam across the country. Because retail usually follows rooftops, most malls are already located in densely populated areas, the places most in need of housing. Not only could the actual stores be converted to higher-density units such as multifamily apartments, but the vast parking areas are also ripe for the construction of lower-density residential uses such as duplexes and townhouses. Mixed-use projects are also very desirable with both housing and retail. In fact, when converting a shopping mall, 85% of projects retain retail on the site.

A report by Enterprise Community Partners last fall estimated that strip mall conversions could create more than 700,000 new homes across the United States. Additionally, a report by the Urban Land Institute and National Multifamily Housing Council Research Foundation (they really need to shorten that name) estimates that there is 1 billion square feet of obsolete retail in the US. Eye-opening numbers indeed.

One of the most significant barriers to conversion is the zoning laws. Many zoning districts where malls are located do not allow mixed or residential uses. With many abandoned malls falling into disrepair, the costs of renovating and retrofitting are not making sense financially. Such factors must be taken into account when assessing the viability of these projects. However, the government is beginning to see the benefits of revitalizing dead malls. A bill just passed through the Pennsylvania House of Representatives that would authorize cities, boroughs, incorporated towns, and townships to provide developers special tax incentives for redeveloping shopping malls. The bill now heads to the State Senate for a vote.

So, for those who used to fantasize about living at the mall, your dreams may finally come true.

 

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