Monday, August 17, 2009

Southwest Center must be de-malled

I had not really thought about it until District 6 Dallas City Council member Steve Salazar brought it up at today's Economic Development Committee meeting, but indoor shopping malls really are yesterday's news. NorthPark is an exception to the rule, but it benefits from its unusual mix of tenants -- most of whom would not be found at any other indoor mall -- but also its location, anchoring the northeast corner of the Park Cities. Place that same mall anywhere else in the city and it's dead meat.

Look at the major indoor shopping malls around the area -- Valley View, Town East, Collin Creek, to name three I'm familiar with -- and you find areas that are quickly becoming ghost towns. That's why the point Salazar made following the briefing I called "What the hell are we gonna do with this Spruce Goose we got out here at the intersection of U.S. 67 and I-20 known as Southwest Center Mall?" is such a valid one. Salazar said any attempt to try to revive it as an indoor mall is doomed to failure.

Why is this so? The answer is simply convenience. Today's shoppers don't want to park a great distance from the store in which they want to shop. That's why, for instance, you will never find a store like a Petsmart in an indoor shopping mall. Folks purchasing a 50-pound bag of dog food don't want the burden of schlepping something like that through an indoor mall and then out through a parking lot to their car. You won't find a Blockbuster in an indoor mall. You can't return a rental at 3 a.m. if the store is located inside a locked indoor mall.

And, if you're looking for stores that might do well out a Southwest Center, I would argue that one might consider a Petsmart (people all over have pets), a Blockbuster or something like Toys R Us, which also doesn't put stores in indoor malls.

So the first thing that must be done if Southwest Center is to be revived is city planners must liberate themselves from the idea of preserving the indoor mall concept. It's yesterday's news.

What they should be looking at is more of the town-center-oriented development like the one pictured here featuring stores where people can drive right up and park at the front door of the store where they want to shop at. You can still keep the so-called anchor tenants, but now they are more free standing.

In addition to a Petsmart or a Blockbuster or a Toys R Us, (or even instead of those stores), the other thing that must be done (and, if today's briefing is any indication, it will be done), an effort must be made to find stores to accommodate the needs of the community. Don't believe the "If you build it, they will come" mentality. Yes, they will come, but only if it provides a need.

But the most important thing here is to abandon the entire idea of preserving Southwest Center in its present configuration as an indoor mall. Any attempt to do that will doom the center to permanent financial ruin and deny the neighborhood a much-needed opportunity.

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