When the demolition of Westdale Mall begins later this spring, it will become part of a national trend of redeveloping hundreds of formerly vibrant retail centers.
Green Street Advisors of Newport Beach, Calif., has forecast that 10 percent of the nation’s 1,000 enclosed malls will fail by 2022. Many will be partially or totally demolished, converted to uses with significantly less retail.
Another report from CoStar Group of Washington, D.C., shows more than 200 malls with over 250,000 square feet have vacancy rates of 35 percent or higher. Age also appears to be a contributing factor as 86.5 percent were built before 2000.
Westdale's deteriorating physical condition and the need to create a radically different mixed-use "destination" are cited as reasons for tearing down the majority of the 35-year-old mall by Frew Development Group of Denver, Colo., which is overseeing a $90 million redevelopment of the property.
During a recent tour of the central portion of Westdale, buckets filling with water from a leaking roof and skylights were abundant. A service corridor that the public never sees showed ample evidence of structural settling and damage to the building's infrastructure.
"The damage to the mall has resulted from decades of neglect," said John Frew, president of Frew Development Group. "The 10-year roof that was installed 20 years ago could be replaced, but the concerns we have are water penetration to the electrical boxes and conduit, much of it running under the mall.
"The front wall of the mall was not built on compacted soil and it has settled more than six inches. That is putting stress on pipes passing through the wall, causing horizontal cracks to form.
"You finally have to ask yourself 'Do we put more lipstick on the pig, or do we start from scratch?'"
There are about 1,100 malls in the United States and about 400 are considered "dead malls." There has only been one mall built in the nation since 2000 and that was funded by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah.
"Malls simply are not being built anymore in the United States," Frew said. "All the demographics of where people are living and shopping are changing. A lot of the infill sites and surrounding areas are being completely redeveloped."
While some question whether Westdale might have been rejuvenated with the right mix of tenants after it lost two of four anchors -- Montgomery Ward and Von Maur -- as well as other national retailers, Frew said that was not the case.
"If this mall could have been repositioned to compete with either Lindale Mall or Coral Ridge Mall, then General Growth Properties, Simon. Macerich or one of the companies in the business of doing that would have done it a long time ago," Frew said. "It was not in the cards, and Westdale just sat here and languished.
"We took a look at it and felt that we could keep the best parts, remove the rest, and create something really different. We will not be competing with Lindale or Coral Ridge."
J.C. Penney and Younkers will operate through the redevelopment process.
"The Penney's, Younkers and former Von Maur buildings are in much better condition than the former Montgomery Ward building," Frew said. "The roof systems are in good shape, there has not been any settling and the heating, ventilating and air-conditioning equipment is in good shape.
"Shive-Hattery has been designing what the three buildings will look like when the mall is gone. In March and April, we will build the temporary closures for the Penney's, Younkers and the former Von Maur building.
"We will build the permanent closures this summer. It will need to be sequenced to make sure it looks nice and you don't have to do it twice."
Many of the remaining smaller Westdale tenants will continue to operate over the two months, while others have already started to move their stores. Frew said the mall doors will be locked on March 31 and tenants have been told they will need to vacate before that date.
Once the mall has been shut down, Frew said demolition work will begin with removal of all roofing materials down to the wood decking. Prepping the remainder of the building for demolition will take six to eight weeks, including disconnecting all utilities and removing any hazardous materials.
"It will take about three months for the demolition of the main part the mall," Frew said. "If everything goes according to plan, you will see as many as four new buildings going up this summer.
"We are trying to get as much open as possible by the end of 2014 and you will see activity continue over the next several years. Some of our buildings are not scheduled to come online until the 10th year of construction."