Atmosphere

Mall Rats

Mixed-use developments are killing the indoor shopping center.

By
September 2009

Fifties jingles play softly over an intercom, filling the silence of an afternoon at the Westminster Mall. Preteens loiter in a corner; down one corridor, vacant store spaces line a wall. Business is bad at the mall—today, nearly half the retail spaces stand empty.

Yet just a quick trip down the road, shoppers stroll down broad sidewalks at the Orchard Town Center, which opened 18 months ago. A new-urbanism development, the OTC is a blend of retail spaces and offices intended to create a mixed-use urban center. (Housing is planned for the future.) It's wildly popular: Macy's, Victoria's Secret, and American Eagle Outfitters have all set up shop here—the kind of stores that used to populate the Westminster Mall—and despite opening at the onset of a terrible retail period, the OTC has managed to fill most of its retail space amid increasing sales.

Westminster's not alone, as indoor malls across the Front Range are frequently replaced by outdoor, main-street versions of themselves. Over the past few years, Buckingham Square in Aurora was torn down and replaced by the Gardens on Havana; Villa Italia was scraped for Belmar in Lakewood; the Crossroads Mall in Boulder was demolished for the Twenty Ninth Street development; and the SouthGlenn Mall in Aurora was redeveloped into the Streets at SouthGlenn.

"These newer developments give diverse options for shopping and are lifestyle centers," says Dick Hinson, the senior vice president of the Aurora Economic Development Council. Many remaining indoor malls are struggling: Twenty percent of the Centennial Mall is empty; Colorado Springs' Chapel Hills Mall is 15 percent vacant. One of the few indoor successes is the Cherry Creek Shopping Center, which is home to many flagship retail stores and is conveniently located next to Cherry Creek North—the original outdoor shopping area.

Westminster city officials, meanwhile, are considering demolishing part of the Westminster Mall to create a more urban "downtown" of high-rise buildings for retail and living space. If the plans come together, demolition could begin as early as 2011, to be followed by new construction. By then, the indoor mall just might be extinct.