Dead (and dying) malls
Some may think it is part of some new return to the city.. maybe an extension of the fear of all things suburban that as briefly at hand when gas prices were zooming toward $5/gallon. Or maybe the recession at hand is somehow to blame. Is it something new that malls fail? Let along malls here? Check out the local representation of local venues at a great web site: deadmalls.com. (which has listed Century III on it's featured list for several years already). That should answer that in itself.
Consider also that sheer number of new malls that have opened up in say the last decade. Given that malls are built for decades, and many leases last for quite some time you would not expect to see instantaneous changes caused by new malls to be felt instantaneously elsewhere... but that does not mean the effects will not be there. Here is a little economic secret. The amount spent on retail spending in the region is pretty much fixed. FIXED! More stores and more malls only means that the same pie gets divided up that many more ways. What happens to other retails when new retail gets built is generally called displacement for a more scientific term.. and for a region like Pittsburgh its pretty unavoidable. So until we build a competitor for the Mall for America and we get shoppers from all across the Midatlantic coming to spend their money here the decline of old malls will be inevitable.
Thus, big new malls in one part of the region almost have to result in serious declines elsewhere within the region. How could it not? Pittsburghers all of sudden become the biggest spenders in the nation? Not expecting that anytime soon. It's not like there are so many malls here that the impacts can be spread across them all with minimal impacts on any one. Given how many malls have opened, you have to see some major losses somewhere.. What has opened here in what counts for recent in mall-years... a few little projects like say the Waterfront, like South Side Works.... how about the moderately sized Pittsburgh Mills mallapalooza.... or not just Robinson Town Center itself, but the big box jungle that didn't exist all around it 15 years ago. (ok.. Ikea must have opened a few years before that, but not that many years earlier?). It just isn't possible that people are spending more collectively at these new stores. Something has to give.
Again... they are all going for the same dollars. and people like new and shiny. Old and run down is hard to revamp.. though I see the concurrent news of late of new tenants at Ross Park Mall. Yet there many know there has been ongoing declines up and along Mcnight road. How is Northway Mall doing? Not the same section of town, but I can imagine what the marketing material for the Parkway Center Mall once promised... a near perfect location at the 'center' of the region, close to major traffic access and along the booming airport corridor. How has that worked out?
What's it mean? My take is that one of the bigger stories that will result from the recession nationally will be proliferation of these new greyfields. What to do with the defunct, or near defunct shopping mall is a big big problem. Goes beyond the malls of course. How many big box Circuit City stores are going to remain empty for some time to come. Some malls get transformed in some semi-bizarre ways. I now realize many people reading this blog have no idea what Allegheny Center Mall once was even though it sort of exists today and is just a short walk from Downtown in the center of the North Side. To many in town, Allegheny Center Mall is no more than reason for the bizarre traffic patterns trying to get to either of the stadia. Some dead malls eventually become hazards enough that they have to be razed completely.. Eastland Mall anyone?
Let's not even go into the sad state of zoning laws in Pennsylvania and just focus on why these malls get built or don't. Decisions to build malls may be market driven... but often, or very often, there is a lot of public money that goes into them directly or indirectly. Except in extraordinary circumstances its hard to justify that type of support. At the very least, the cost of cleaning up old mall sites has to be taken into account in the calculus. How much money and effort was spent over decades in support of the Pittsburgh Mills Mall development along Route 28? It was not cheap to build all those highway access roads necessitated by the new mall... and that would be just a beginning of an accounting that will never be done. What I don't get is that that money spent there raised only incidental notice yet people get mad at building a tunnel for mass transit? Just think... if Zayres had survived it would soon have its own subway stop.