The Burlington Mall Story
On the one hand, there’s what he called “the Burlington Mall story.” It’s the one you’ve likely heard about with buzz about the “retail apocalypse” and “dead malls.” Earlier this month, Moonbeam, for example, sold an empty shopping mall with more than 1.2 million square feet of space to be razed and replaced with a more up-to-date mixed use development.
On the other hand, there’s what Maksin called the “Greeley Mall story,” a story Maksin has been familiar with since Moonbeam bought the mall in 2012. The Greeley Mall’s occupancy is above 93 percent and sales are trending upward year-over-year, Maksin said.
Revitalizing the mall and investing to keep an updated appearance brought success, he said, at a time when many malls are either empty or being torn down.
Images of abandoned malls cropped up even before multinational financial services Credit Suisse forecast in 2017 that a quarter of shopping malls would close by 2022. Malls like the Greeley Mall are in a unique position, Maksin said. With its smaller footprint than most, at 500,000 square feet, the Greeley Mall focuses on the local community’s “hustling and bustling,” he said.
“Unlike bigger malls, where one big anchor tenant’s departure can basically collapse the entire rent structure,” he said.
The Greeley Mall has survived a couple recent anchor departures, including Sears in early 2018and Dillard’s in May 2008. In spite of those departures, the mall continues to attract businesses and shoppers. By the end of 2018, the city collected more than $2.7 million in retail sales tax in the Greeley Mall area, a 4.88 percent increase from the prior year.
Ken Leonard, a retail real estate consultant with expertise in shopping malls, said many of the malls being torn down today shouldn’t have been built in the first place. Shopping malls were built at a rapid pace in the 1970s, following on the successes of malls in large metro cities. Fulenwider Co. of Denver developed the Greeley Mall in 1973, with carpeting throughout the mall and three decorative fountains. The 500,000-square-foot project cost more than $12 million and was home to more than 50 stores.
Leonard, who handled real estate matters for department stores including Montgomery Ward, which had a location in the original Greeley Mall, said the mall basically replaced downtown Greeley.
“Everybody in Greeley seemed to get along just fine for years shopping downtown Greeley,” Leonard said. “Then the mall came along, and when the mall opened everybody moved their purchases to the mall.”
That “evolution” in shopping trends took a next step with big box superstores like Walmart, Target and Sam’s Club, Leonard said. Those stores brought a similar all-in-one, metropolitan shopping experience to consumers at a fraction of the cost, eliminating the need for costly overhead. Unlike mall retailers, the superstores also didn’t have to compete with themselves for shoppers’ dollars under one roof.
“People don’t buy twice as much toothpaste just because there are twice as many stores,” Leonard said.
Leonard doesn’t buy the “Greeley Mall story,” saying instead that only the top-performing class of malls are still in a position to perform well.
As retailers like Sears were snatched up by financial investment companies like hedge funds, those companies bankrupted the stores, according to Leonard.
Financial institutions, he explained, weren’t looking to run a company based off the founder’s vision, but instead plan to simply make as much money as possible for their investors and then dump the company once they’re finished. After those major retailers went belly up, others weren’t looking to follow the same model, leaving a void of major retailers at malls across the country, including in Greeley.
“So the developer is just trying to keep the lights on and fill the space, and he’ll take whoever’s around that is interested in coming into that mall,” Leonard said, even if those retailers are smaller and pay less in rent than in years past.
To attract shoppers and get exposure to small businesses in the mall, Jill Staples, on-site manager for the Greeley Mall, said they try to host events every month that are free to the community. Bringing in those crowds from across town helps attract customers to visit, and potentially revisit, some of the mall’s unique businesses, Staples said. To keep tenant spaces filled, Staples works with the Greeley and Evans area chambers of commerce and offers affordable rates.
Shawl Pryor, chief operating officer for Moonbeam, said some of the biggest changes Moonbeam has made to the mall in recent years include upgrading both interior and exterior signs, enhancing exterior and interior lighting and parking lot upgrades, which are nearly 75 percent complete. Moonbeam also has invested in more exterior landscaping for the mall. Pryor said working on renovations with major tenants is vital to keeping the entire property attractive, such as the Cinemark theater installing new loungers in spring 2018.
Moonbeam’s improvements addressed a number of issues recognized by city officials in a 2008 conditions survey of the Greeley Mall area. Identifying the area as “blighted” at the time, city officials established a tax increment district for redevelopment. The city had high hopes for redeveloping the area, with three concepts for redevelopment. The concepts included more landscaping, introducing other retail or mixed use buildings around the mall and improvements to the layout of the streets. One concept included a new main entrance with a clock tower on the north side, relocating the anchor space that used to house Sears to the east.
All those dreams were put on hold when the Great Recession hit, but Benjamin Snow, Greeley’s director of economic health and development, said the tax district will keep those opportunities alive for another decade or so. The tax district enables city officials to subsidize improvements and economic development in the area by drawing from future property tax revenue. Snow said that at a time when many malls are being torn down, the Greeley Mall maintains some heartbeat.
“I think the Greeley Mall is ripe for redevelopment activity,” Snow said. “If the economy continues to grow as strong as it has, I think that there will be opportunities to do some unique things to position that mall for new retail. And even perhaps some housing or … light industrial, back-office type.”
Though many malls were built on the outside edges of town, the Greeley Mall, has a corridor connecting it to downtown Greeley, Snow explained: downtown Greeley, which is undergoing major redevelopments along 8th Avenue by Richmark Real Estate Partners, connects with the University of Northern Colorado, which is nearly 2 miles from the mall. That north-south corridor in east Greeley is ripe for investment, Snow said.
Much of what the city would like to see happen surrounding the mall area was laid out in the now 11-year-old study, according to Snow: introducing housing, mixed use projects and possibly office or light industrial spaces to create jobs.
“That’s the kind of thinking the city would be excited to happen down there,” he said
Reid, T. (2019, February 15). Owners say Greeley Mall a unique success story as other malls are torn down. Retrieved from https://www.greeleytribune.com/news/greeley-malls-unique-success-as-other-malls-are-torn-down-a-result-of-location-and-revitalization-owners-say/