Ohio Communities Deal With “After-Life” Of Shopping Malls

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The fountains at Euclid Square were shut off years ago, former fast-food stands now sit shuttered, and tuxedoed manikins in store windows stare out at empty walkways.(Photo: Flickr)
The fountains at Euclid Square were shut off years ago, former fast-food stands now sit shuttered, and tuxedoed manikins in store windows stare out at empty walkways.(Photo: Flickr)

Thirty years ago, some of the most bustling places in the state were shopping malls. These enclosed commercial districts were “people magnets”, with packed parking lots, and a wide variety of popular shops, department stores and restaurants.

But online shopping and a bad economy have turned many of these mini-cities into ghost towns.

Larry James recalls Euclid Square Mall was hopping when he was a teenager.

“The parking lot was full, with people all over the place,” James said. “Great place to sit down and look at the water fountains and, you know, girl watch. … Then it just died.”

The fountains were shut-off years ago, former fast-food stands now sit shuttered, and tuxedoed manikins in store windows stare out at empty walkways.

 Lincoln Park, a former housing project on the far south side of Columbus.

Euclid Square was part of a mall-building boom in the 1970s, and it had a great location, near the intersection of two major interstates. But, then came the Great Lakes Mall, just a few highway stops away, and Richmond Town Square, just four miles down the road.

Real estate broker Kevin Cooney says that proved attractive to one of the Euclid mall’s major tenants.

“May Company had a 25-year commitment to keep the doors open, and when that was up, they moved to Richmond,” Cooney said. “That was the first shoe to drop, so to speak.”

More Shoes

And the shoes kept dropping until late last month, when Euclid Square’s last anchor store, a Dillard’s outlet, finally shut down. Cooney says the owner has been trying to unload the 71-acre property for years, but hasn’t found any buyers.

Cleveland State professor of real estate development Robert Simons says an empty mall is a burden not only to the property owner, but to the community around it.

“Eventually it will be assessed by the tax authorities at lower than it was, which means its proportionate share of property taxes will go down. And it’ll have fewer jobs, the income taxes will go down,” Simons said.

Rolling Acres Rolls No More

Rolling Acres, a once popular mall on the southwest side of Akron, is now largely abandoned. The Summit County fiscal office reports that the Akron schools are annually losing more than $67,000 in taxes from the deteriorating property, which is the subject of several YouTube commentaries.

Akron’s Deputy Mayor of Economic Development Robert Bowman says any hope of re-using the land will depend on untangling who owns what.

“Sears, Penny’s, Dillard’s and Target; those were the big box stores and they were owned individually. So it creates a problem in redevelopment when the mall goes down, and that’s entering a foreclosure process, we believe,” Robert Bowman said.

A Different Kind Of Mall

Across the country, communities have gotten inventive in finding new ways to re-frame former malls. Aquariums, schools and casinos have moved into spaces formerly occupied by shoe stores, record shops, and restaurants. One of the more unusual adaptive re-uses can be found back at Euclid Square Mall which is now home to 24 Christian congregations

Leonard Rowe is pastor for one of the newest churches to move in, New Vision Missionary Baptist. He says it’s a similar concept to the traditional storefront church that can be found throughout the inner city, but in this case it’s climate controlled and the parishioners feel safer.

“It’s something that’s appealing to the people, because people mostly came to the mall to do shopping,” Pastor Rowe said. “And here, we’re just letting them know you don’t have to shop for clothes, now. You can come shop for the Holy Ghost.”

Real Estate expert Robert Simons is dubious about the long-term viability of a mall full of churches.

“The best idea is probably to scrape the site flat and just build housing on it or whatever the highest best use is,” Simons said.

Of course, not all malls are dead.

Summit Mall in suburban Akron keeps pulling in customers, as does Great Northern in North Olmsted. And the formerly failing Parmatown Mall, recently got a $2 million loan from the Cuyahoga County Council for a makeover that will include a name change to “The Shoppes at Parma.” That’s “Shoppes” with an “E” at the end. In a time when on-line shopping has reduced the need to physically go to stores, and young people meet their “friends” on Facebook instead of by the fountains, you need every advantage you can get.

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