Meridian Mall looks to avoid the growing list of dead malls

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Think back to the days you rode with your parents and friends to the mall, excited to finally buy that cool new pair of shoes or an outfit. You were greeted with the smell of warm pretzels at the food court and the sound of cheerful kids running around in the play area and arcade. The mall was the town’s hotspot, and now they’re closing faster than ever. Meridian Mall now battles the struggle of losing stores to online shopping.

Dead — or malls with a high vacancy rate — are often due to advances in technology, online shopping and delivery services. A Credit Suisse study says between 20 to 25 percent of malls will close in the next five years.

“Malls have definitely changed,” said Chris Buck, economic developer of Meridian Township. “Malls are certainly used differently than they were 20 years ago. I think a big part has to do with ecommerce and online shopping which has made the traditional retail storefront more challenging.”

Major department stores are downsizing to make less locations more profitable. Last year, Macy’s announced a plan to close 100 stores, which includes the one at Lansing Mall.

Yonkers, one of Meridian Mall’s main department stores has announced they are going out of business. Photo by Brent Hughes

In a press statement, Terry Bixler, broker at ROC Real Estate in Plymouth and president of Michigan’s Commercial Board of Realtors says online shopping is making things difficult.

“Malls are being challenged right now with the increased use of online shopping,” Bixler said. “It’s challenging the conventional retail formation of a regional-type mall and the types of users that used to be considered anchors for those malls.”

Combating dead malls

Meridian Mall, which includes Macy’s as one of its featured department stores, is doing its best to adapt to change and growth in ecommerce, Buck said. One way they are adapting is through leasing entertainment attractions.

“I think it’s a strategy having experience-related tenants as opposed to merchants exclusively,” Buck said. “Having experienced based tenants gives people reasons to go to the mall property to do that activity and then maybe stop by the food court or go pick up something in one of the stores on their way home.”

Ben Perry, president of Knockerball Entertainment in Meridian Mall believes society is shifting this way.

“If you dig in and do more research, as a culture and society we’re dedicating more of our income to experiences, as opposed to material possessions,” Perry said.

Planet Fitness’s Meridian Mall location. Photo by Brent Hughes

Attractions also include other areas of business, like fitness. Vickie Jackson, general manager at Meridian Mall’s Planet Fitness location believes the mall relationship is a win-win for customer traffic.

“It’s a central location, so I would say yes,” Jackson said, when asked if Planet Fitness benefits from the mall traffic.

Planet Fitness has been in Meridian Mall since 2013, Jackson said. It’s common to see its fitness centers near malls.

“Most of them are either in a mall or a strip mall,” Jackson said. “It’s not the norm for them to be stand-alone buildings. Not that they aren’t, but it’s not the norm.”

Jackson said Meridian Mall’s interest in Planet Fitness has something to do with bringing more customers to the mall.

“I would say so,” Jackson said. “It would be a good guess because we draw a ton of people and we have an entrance that leads right to the mall.”

New leasing ideas

Buck said temporary leases can also be a good option for the mall when struggling to fill permanent spaces.

Kiosk leasing space available in Meridian Mall. Photo by Brent Hughes

“Anything is better than nothing,” Buck said. “Having someone on the cusp of being able to afford a long-term lease and have a real store front, but don’t know if their model is proven,  having one of those kiosks or six-month trial [is a good option] and if it doesn’t work they can leave. If it does, they can sign long term.”

Meridian Mall has found this strategy to be successful recently with with the growth of Moneyball Sportswear.

“Moneyball Sportswear was a temporary client,” Buck said, “and just signed an official lease to sign as a permanent tenant. So, sometimes these try-it-before-you-fully-buy-it opportunities can pan out, and that is one example.”

Shopping centers like Fairlane Town Center in Dearborn are even beginning to lease spaces to major corporate companies. Last year Fairlane Town Center added a Ford Motor Company office to replace the closed Lord & Taylor.

“As we began the 10-year process of constructing new technology labs and offices, we needed an innovative solution to situate larger teams close to our operations,”  Dave Dubensky, chairman and CEO of Ford Land said in a media release. “The proximity and design of Fairlane Mall, along with its on-site amenities support our transformation in offering multiple conveniences for our employees.”

A corporate office at a mall may be unusual but Rita Nelson, Fairlane Town Center general manager said the industry has to adapt to fill open spaces.

“Retail has shifted so much over the years and Fairlane is no different,” Nelson said in a statement. “We have more than 125 stores and restaurants but like much of the industry, we have expanded to include other opportunities.”

Meridian Mall’s future plans

No matter the strategy in place, keeping Meridian Mall alive is a primary task.

“I always consider it one of my top priorities,” Buck said. “I have open dialogue with CBL Properties, the leasing company of Meridian Mall, and speak with them on a regular basis. I think the township has a role to play in seeing what we can do to help allow them some out of the box ideas to shift into a new mode.”

Buck listed housing components, senior care, hotels, outbuildings and a permanent structure for the Meridian Farmers’ Market as potential options to bring more people around the mall.

A view the Meridian Winter Farmers’ Market, which extends way down toward JCPenney in Meridian Mall. Photo by: Brent Hughes

“There’s a scenario where we coordinate access to the big patch of grass east of Studio C, and building a permanent structure to move the farmers’ market in their full time,” Buck said.

With a new structure like this he said Meridian Township would look to bring in antique markets, art markets and others to host in this space. A playground and basketball court nearby are of interest as well. Todd Huhn, Meridian Mall’s general manager told Lansing City Pulse in November that he would see an evolution to the mall as a success.

“That’s an evolution that’s going on out there right now, the mall industry continues to evolve,” Huhn told City Pulse. “Our main goal is to try and stay ahead of that.”

No matter what, Buck made it clear closing the mall is not an option.

“Every conversation we have is ideas and strategies about how we can continue to stay relevant,” Buck said. “We’re optimistic GBL has the creativity, and the pockets deep enough to weather the storm that all malls are going through and come out better than they’ve ever been.”