GWINNETT COUNTY, Georgia – From boomtowns to ghost towns, the fall of major malls in Georgia and malls across the country has been dramatic. About a dozen malls are struggling in metro Atlanta, from the Mall of Georgia to Crossroads Mall in Conyers. But, there are efforts to reinvigorate Georgia’s once mighty malls and you might see some of the best examples tried here in the metro area.
“The only reason I like going there is to look around to see what I can find,” said customer Josefa Almazan.
Almazan, like many shoppers these days, isn’t exactly heading to malls for a bunch of reasons.
“A lot of my peers have personally stopped coming here because of security concerns,” said customer Abby Sirakoulis.
Channel 2 found Sirakoulis heading to one of the last remaining open stores in what was once Gwinnett Place Mall.
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Gwinnett County purchased the mall property with plans to redevelop the area. Inside, it’s a spooky ghost land with empty storefronts, battered ceilings, and acres of empty parking lots.
“It just makes me sad. It’s just a shell of its former glory,” said Joe Allen, executive director of the Gwinnett Place Community Improvement District.
The downfall of the mall of the 1980s happened quickly. During the Christmas season in 1998, Channel 2 found it packed with wall-to-wall people. But in 2001 buyers were noticing a difference and one said, “There weren’t too many people here.
Gwinnett Place is not alone. From Northlake to Sugarloaf Mills to upscale malls like Lenox, the struggle is real.
Channel 2’s Tony Thomas asked KC Conway, who runs Red Shoe Economics, a commercial property forecasting company, why the outlook for shopping centers has changed so much.
“How’s the mall scene in Atlanta right now?” Thomas asked.
“Everyone is negatively impacted right now. The least is probably Perimeter Mall,” Conway said. “Two things converging, Amazon and the housing crisis have really destroyed retail. Retail will never be like this again.
So what is coming to replace malls? There are a few examples across the country that Conway and other experts say prove old malls can be reinvented as economic powerhouses.
One is right in our own backyard – Northlake Mall in Tucker. When Northlake fell on hard times, Corinth Properties stepped in. The company is spending over $100 million to reinvent sprawling ownership.
It’s not Aunt Annie and Mrs. Fields kind of place anymore. While Corinth says there will always be retail and restaurants, Emory Healthcare has become the main tenant.
“We envision Northlake becoming largely an employment center. It’s not Northlake Mall anymore, it’s Northlake,” said Tony Ruggeri, a partner at Corinth Properties.
“People want to have a different experience. They want to be inside-out,” said Frank Mihalopoulos, also a Corinth Properties partner.
Corinth has already done this. Just up the road in Nashville at One Hundred Oaks. Vanderbilt Health leases about half the space at One Hundred Oaks, providing an embedded customer base to keep stores and restaurants full. The once dead mall is now bustling day and night.
“What’s the biggest mistake a lot of places like this make?” Thomas asked.
“I think the first is they think they can bring retail back,” Conway said.
“What does Joe Allen want to see come in here?” Thomas asked.
“I want to see the mall demolished and ashes, we need a cool place,” Allen said.
Gwinnett County leaders take note. They visit malls across the country to try to figure out what might work best. They went to Denver and visited the Belmar Mall in Lakewood, an outdoor facility. And they toured the streets of SouthGlenn, a popular mixed-use facility in the Denver area.
“They’ve got apartments, they’ve got condos, they’ve got condos, they’ve got groceries, they’ve got restaurants, and they’ve tried to make it fairly walkable,” Conway said.
Gwinnett officials are continuing their nationwide tour with plans to visit several malls in Seattle. They also visited properties in Houston, New York, Austin, Texas and San Diego.
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“What are you most looking forward to? Thomas asked. “I can’t wait to see people at this place again,” Allen said.
“Maybe if they made it a little safer and brought in more stores, it could be better,” Sirakoulis said.
Of the 1,200 to 1,300 malls that exist today, many experts predict that only 200 to 300 will survive. In Gwinnett County, officials are in the information-gathering phase and are holding community meetings. Actual changes could be in the millions of dollars and several years away.
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