GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. — From booming town centers to ghost towns, it has been a dramatic fall for big shopping malls in Georgia and malls around the country. About a dozen malls are struggling in metro Atlanta from the Mall of Georgia to Crossroads Mall in Conyers. But, there are efforts to reenergize Georgia’s once mighty shopping centers and you might see some of the prime examples tried here in the metro area.
“The only reason I like going is to look around see what I can find,” said shopper Josefa Almazan.
Almazan, like many shoppers these days doesn’t exactly make a beeline for malls for a bunch of reasons.
“A lot of my peers personally have stopped coming here because of the safety issue,” said shopper Abby Sirakoulis.
Channel 2 found Sirakoulis heading into one of the last remaining open stores at what used to be Gwinnett Place Mall.
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Gwinnett County purchased the mall property with plans to redevelop the area. Inside, it’s a creepy ghost land with empty storefronts, damaged ceilings, and acres of empty parking lots.
“It just makes me sad. It’s just a shell of it’s former glory,” said Joe Allen the Executive Director of the Gwinnett Place Community Improvement District.
The fall of the 1980′s mall happened fast. During the Christmas season in 1998 Channel 2 found it packed with wall to wall people. But by 2001, shoppers were noticing a difference and one said, “It wasn’t crowded here.”
Gwinnett Place isn’t alone. From Northlake to Sugarloaf Mills to even high-end malls like Lenox, the struggle is real.
Channel 2′s Tony Thomas asked K.C. Conway, who runs Red Shoe Economics, a commercial real estate forecasting firm about why the outlook for malls has changed so much.
“How is the Atlanta mall scene right now?” asked Thomas.
“Everyone is being adversely impacted right now. The least is probably Perimeter Mall,” said Conway. “Two things converging, Amazon and the housing crisis really destroyed retail. Retail will never come back like this again.”
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So what comes in to replace the malls? There are a few examples across the country that Conway and other experts said are proving that old malls can be reimagined back into 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 upwards of $100 million reimagining the sprawling property.
It’s not your Aunt Annie’s and Mrs. Fields type of place anymore. While Corinth says there will still be retail and restaurants, Emory Healthcare has become the primary tenant.
“We envision Northlake will become largely a job center. This is no longer Northlake Mall, it’s Northlake,” said Tony Ruggeri, a partner with Corinth Properties.
“People want a different experience. They want to be indoor-outdoor,” said Frank Mihalopoulos, also a partner with Corinth Properties.
Corinth has done it before. Just up the road in Nashville at One Hundred Oaks. Vanderbilt Health leases about half of the space at One Hundred Oaks, providing a built-in clientele to keep the shops and restaurants full. The once dead mall is now vibrant day and night.
“What’s the biggest mistake a lot of places like this make?” asked Thomas.
“I think number one is, they think they can bring retail back,” said Conway.
“What does Joe Allen want to see come in here?” asked Thomas.
“I want to see the mall demolished and out of the ashes we need a cool place,” said Allen.
Leaders in Gwinnett County are taking note. They are touring malls across the country trying to figure out what might work best. They’ve gone to Denver and looked at the Belmar Mall in Lakewood, an open-air facility. And they toured the Streets of SouthGlenn, a wildly popular mixed-use facility in the Denver area.
“They’ve got apartments, they’ve got condos, they’ve got housing, they’ve got groceries, they’ve got restaurants and they’ve tried to make it pretty walkable,” said Conway.
Gwinnett officials are continuing their nationwide tour with plans to visit several malls in Seattle. They’ve also toured properties in Houston, New York, Austin, Texas and San Diego.
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“What are you looking forward to most?” asked Thomas. “I’m looking forward to seeing people in this location again,” said Allen.
“Maybe if they made it a little safer and brought in more shops it could be better,” said Sirakoulis.
Of the 1,200 to 1,300 malls in existence today, many experts predict only 200 to 300 will survive. In Gwinnett County, officials are in an information gathering stage holding community meetings. Actual changes could be millions of dollars and several years away.
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