Transcript

Shopping Malls

Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 5, 2007; 11:00 AM

Washington Post staff writer Ylan Q. Mui was online to discuss the health of the area's shopping malls.

In an article today, she examines the Laural Mall, which is about to get a makeover. That article, part of the Commercial Real Estate Report, includes an information graphic that examines how five enclosed malls built during the 1970s are doing today.

A transcript follows.

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Ylan Q. Mui: Hello everyone! Thanks for joining my chat. I look forward to answering your questions!

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Laurel, MD: What are the rumors regarding future tenants of the Laurel Mall?

Ylan Q. Mui: Well, there are lots of hopes and finger-crossing but nothing official yet. I know they want a national chain bookstore -- take your pick, there are only a few! -- and a 16-screen, stadium-seating movie theater. They want to attract national women's and men's fashion retailers. Some that the community has requested include places like Old Navy and Gymboree.

If the new owners, Somera Capital and AEW Capital, can really pull off these tenants, I think it will be a major coup. That's what we're all waiting to find out!

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Laurel, Md.: One piece of trivia not in your article -- the outdoor portion of Laurel Center is where Alabama Governor George Wallace was shot while he campaigned for President in 1972.

Ylan Q. Mui: Interesting!

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washingtonpost.com: Ylan, there are conflicting sentiments in the comments area of your article:

One reader, "jhall," writes: "Arundel Mills is a monster. I just dont see this happening. They should have did this before Arundel Mills established develpment in Hanover."

But "mick_wiser" writes: "I find it interesting that there is any doubt as to the future success of Laurel mall given the move of so many jobs to the area i.e. Fort Meade in the not too distant future. Laurel Mall is less than 15 minutes from the front gate at Fort Meade via a single road - Route 198. Its a no brainer to me...."

Any thoughts?

Ylan Q. Mui: Hah! I think that location is indeed important, but I think the tenant mix will also play a big role. Look at the revamped Rockville Town Square. They are not far from behemoths Montgomery Mall and White Flint, but they are carving out a new niche of upscale independent retailers and service providers like day spas.

The same niche may not be the answer for Laurel Mall, but I think if they can get the right mix and the housing development around them continues to grow, they will have a good chance of surviving.

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Laurel, Md.: Just about everything you can say about Laurel Mall today was true of Laurel Lakes (two blocks south) at the turn of the decade. It was full of empty storefronts and was in a difficult location.

That center basically got rid of almost all the small retailers and put up big box stores -- a new Michaels, Lowes, and Staples opened recently (Safeway and Best Buy were already there). So now that Laurel Lakes has refurbished, what's left for Laurel Mall?

Most people in Laurel live conveniently near either the Corridor Center cluster (Wal-Mart, Target, Kohls, Sport Authority) or a 10-minute drive from Columbia.

I don't Laurel Mall as a primary destination for anyone who'd use either the Parkway, I-95 or Route 29 to get there; and if I'm right, it will never be a draw for anyone who doesn't live near it on Route One.

Ylan Q. Mui: That is one "de-malling" option -- to take a mall and turn it into a big-box power center. Most likely the existence of Laurel Lakes and the other strip centers is one reason why the new owners of Laurel Mall *didn't* choose that option. It's already there! They did tell me, however, that they don't expect the mall to become a destination center. They expect it to draw shoppers largely within a 7-mile radius around the mall and are hoping that some of the new housing development going up around it will also feed into it.

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Laurel: Laurel Mall is at the crossroads of four counties -- Prince Georges (which it's in), Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Howard.

Considering how retailers avoid P.G., is that a good spot, considering it's not really on the major arteries?

Ylan Q. Mui: Prince George's county has lamented the fact that retailers avoid locating there for a long time. And the fact that Laurel sits in Prince George's has made it a tougher sell to retailers.

Not sure about the major artery part of your question, though, because Route 1 does see quite a bit of traffic. I think the question isn't "Is it a good spot?" but rather "What is it a good spot for?"

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Washington, D.C.: How does Pentagon City fit into this discussion? It's always mobbed when I go there. Is it different because it's newer than the malls the article featured? Or because it's on the metro? Or something else entirely? I guess I'm just wondering how you are distinguishing enclosed malls, because clearly some of them are doing fine.

Ylan Q. Mui: Pentagon City is sort of an anomaly, isn't it? It's sort of urban because it sits so close to the city and is literally on top of a Metro line. But on the other hand, it is an enclosed mall anchored by department stores, something that you don't normaly see inside a city.

I think the point of the article isn't that all enclosed malls are dead -- but that we are perhaps overmalled and many of them are falling off the map because of it. And enclosed mall is not the sure bet it used to be. Pentagon seems to be doing fine, and also Tysons, Montgomery Mall, Potomac Mills, etc. It's just these days being an enclosed mall alone isn't enough to be a draw. You need something else to differentiate you and make you special.

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City Place - Silver Spring: What's up with City Place in downtown Silver Spring? It has got to be the worst mall in the best location in the metro area. I'd hate to see what increased road traffic in that area would do, but it would be great to have a new/revamped mall in that spot.

Ylan Q. Mui: H&R Retail was doing some of the leasing for the mall and trying to lure some bigger national tenants, but judging by the store directory, they've haven't met with much success. This is from an article by my colleage Chris Davenport that ran last summer:

Downtown SilverSpring's metamorphosis from a moribund ghost town to a thriving city center has been hailed as one of the country's most successful redevelopment projects. After years of neglect and failed attempts to revive it, downtown is bustling day and night, giving Montgomery County officials reason to boastfully dub it "Silver Sprung."

But the renaissance has largely bypassed CityPlace, which for more than a decade was the city's only major retail center. Small discount stores and boutiques have come and gone, and upscale chains stayed away from the indoor mall that largely drew a lower-income clientele.

Now surrounded by Starbucks lattes, art films and the glittering headquarters of Discovery Communications at Colesville Road and Georgia Avenue, CityPlace is an encased island, a vestige of what SilverSpring used to be. It symbolizes the juxtapositions of race and class, old and new, suddenly created by the relentless evolution of a community.

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Silver Spring, MD: Why didn't they plan to turn it into a real mixed use development with office and residential added? It just doesn't feel complete. I think these are mistakes that places like Tysons Corner are trying to correct.

Ylan Q. Mui: There are new higher-end apartments going up around Laurel Mall. I'm not sure if there are any office plans in the works. But new owners Somera Capital and AEW are partly constrained by the actual site, the fact that Burlington Coat Factory and the land under it were not included in the sale, and the length of the leases held by mall tenants.

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Falls Church, Va.: It's certainly true that the trend in new concstruction these days is back to open-air malls, but have there been any studies as to the sales performance of those malls in cold weather? When the weather is pleasant, I love the outdoor outlet mall at Leesburg, but when it's 18 degrees and windy, I'd rather go to Tysons.

Ylan Q. Mui: That's actually one reason that Somera gave me for why they think there is still a place for the mall. Open air is great, but unless you live in California, there are days when you want a little climate control!

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Ylan Q. Mui: One more note to the Pentagon City chatter -- the outdoor Pentagon Row development has also helped drive traffic to the mall as well.

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Fairfax Station, Va.: Except for visiting the DMV for a plate transfer, I have not been to a big mall in over 2 years. I do shop at big box strip malls for stores like BJs, PetSmart, etc but I have become very comfortable on the net as well as just buying less. Could be I approaching senior citizen buying habits, but I don't have much hope for growth of the malls. There is nothing unique or any services that great to want me to fight the traffic, parking, and lack of knowledgeable staff.

They definitely need a new value argument.

Ylan Q. Mui: Good points. As a District resident, I rarely make it out to malls when I'm not reporting. If I do, I make a whole day out of it to make it worthwhile!

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Annapolis, MD: Interesting. Malls have become the social center of our lives. When my inlaws walk at 8 AM, they walk at the mall, when my daughter wanted to have a party activity, it was a mall scavenger hunt. When my son's chorus sang, it was at mall center court.

Ylan Q. Mui: More interesting points to the general question of whether or not malls serve any purpose. Even though you won't find me up at 8 a.m. walking the mall (or up at 8 a.m. period!), there is still a population for whom the mall is a regular destination.

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Springfield, VA: Is there any hope for Springfield Mall? At this point I hope they bulldoze it and put in a park or something. It's scary and dank and awful.

Ylan Q. Mui: I've gotten a couple of questions about Springfield Mall, but this one really sums them all up! The latest update I found in our clips is from my colleague Alec MacGillis from last spring:

Late last year, though, the mall was bought by Vornado Realty Trust, a New Jersey-based retail giant with grand plans to remake the 80-acre site. This summer, the county will consider a proposal for adding a hotel, housing and offices on the mall's vast parking lots. Vornado is planning to keep the existing structure but turn it "inside out" by adding outward-facing stores, including a grocery store.

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Ylan Q. Mui: Regarding Springfield Mall, here is a response from my colleague Alec MacGillis:

I haven't written anything on it in a while but I remember seeing the short article below in the Examiner, which makes it sound like things are on track. What isn't on track is the other project I wrote about in S'field, the "Midtown Springfield" mixed use extravaganza by KSI, just across 95 from the mall. It's apparently on hold because of the housing market cooling. Here's the mall story:

Springfield - A long-awaited overhaul of the Springfield mall has taken a major step forward, with a developer filing plans for a new blueprint for the Fairfax County shopping hub.

The mall, owned by Vornado Realty Trust, is widely seen as one of the county's prime targets for redevelopment.

The exact details of the Springfield Mall Town Center rezoning proposal filed Jan. 11 were unclear Thursday because the county has not yet reviewed them and the application itself couldn't be accessed by press time. Vornado did not return multiple phone calls.

Hopes run high, however, that the now-lackluster mall on Frontier Drive can be converted to a more vibrant locale. Another major mall revamp of the Tysons Corner Center saw approval from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors this week.

"What we want to see, clearly, is increased retail and a couple new big-box retailers to help anchor them all," said Jeff McKay, chief of staff for Fairfax County Supervisor Dana Kauffman. "We obviously want to see some new office space and a hotel to bolster it as a real mixed-use project."

Kauffman's office has not yet received a copy of the proposal, he said.

Unlike the Tysons Corner project, the Springfield mall does not have simple access to rail, which is a key tenant of the development strategy of the county. The nearest Metro station is Franconia-Springfield on the blue line.

"We've made it clear to [Vornado] that there is going to have to be a significant investment in moving people from the station to the mall," McKay said.

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Beltsville, Md.: I know this is subject no one wants to discuss, but, basically, I think of Laurel Mall as having an African-American clientele and stores oriented to their tastes, which means it doesn't have much to interest me.Is there evidence that when a mall becomes "too black" that whites stop shopping there?

Ylan Q. Mui: That question is the elephant in the room, to be sure, and I'm glad that you brought it up. Prince George's officials have said that retailers are "scared" to locate in the county because it is predominantly black -- even though it has a strong median household income. They have spent years trying to convince retailers otherwise.

I think it is fair to say that Laurel Mall is not serving the needs of the community around it, African American or otherwise. I don't think having 16 percent of storefronts vacant and, I believe, three dollar stores serves any communities needs.

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Alexandria, Virginia: Isn't one of the "de-malling" options to create "Town Center" developments. It may too much of a challenge to revitalize what were once regional malls.

Ylan Q. Mui: This is definitely an option -- just check out the earlier post regarding Rockville Town Square. They had to tear the mall down first, though.

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Silver Spring, Maryland: The age of the enclosed shopping mall has come to an end. They are a dying breed. Malls like Tysons Corner will soon meet the same fate, it's only a matter of time, and it's already attracting an unruly group. I like the concept of National Harbor; it's urban from the ground up and has a mix use like Office space. In fact I wouldn't call National Harbor a mall but a mini city.

Ylan Q. Mui: Good thoughts.

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Alexandria, VA: I like malls that aren't too popular. I go to Landmark and will go to Pentagon City early before it gets busy but I will not shop at Tyson's Corners even if my life's dream was only being sold there. Nothing's worth that headache.

Ylan Q. Mui: *LOL* To each their own!

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Downtown Silver Spring, MD: Just so you know, there are concrete plans for an office tower on top of City Place Mall in the works. The office tower was planned when the mall first opened in 1992 but market conditions didn't bring it into existence. The office tower will sit on top of the malls Colesville entrance. I have to say I like City Place mall and they have added some new unique stores like Galaxy Billiards and McGinty's Public House. It's not the best mall but people who say they don't like it simply aren't the targeted demographics. It simply needs additional stores with a better variety; not that the stores there now are really bad. I think the mall and the new outdoor open air center of "Downtown Silver Spring" compliment each other well. If it's cold go in the mall, when the weather is nice stay outside on the turf.

Ylan Q. Mui: Thanks, these are good tips!

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Alexandria, VA: Do you happen to know what the plan for Landmark Mall in Alexandria is? The mall has been going downhill for years, and despite the fact that it is just around the corner from me, I rarely go anymore. I remember when it went from an outdoor shopping area to the enclosed mall. It was very popular and busy. Now it is very run down, has substandard shops, and many vacancies. A make-over is long overdue!

I had heard that there were plans to make it more like Pentagon Row - a mixed-use outdoor plan. Is that still going to happen? And if so, when?

Also, the west end of Alexandria could really use a movie theater. Skyline theater and the old dollar theater in Bailey's Crossroads used to be the only ones on the west side, but now they are gone. I am sure that is because of all the mega-theaters on the east side.

Ylan Q. Mui: I actually do not know anything about the plans (or lack thereof) at Landmark. Chatters?

And posting your requests in case there are any retail real estate folks reading ...!

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Falls Church, Va.: Malls are still the destination of choice for teens in the evenings and on weekends. Springfield Mall may be rundown at this point, but it's still teeming with young people.

Ylan Q. Mui: More on Springfield ...

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DC: Which is your favorite mall in this area, and why? What do you think about Eden Center Mall?

Ylan Q. Mui: I've shopped at almost every mall in the Washington area -- I know, tough job. I can't say I have a favorite, but I do like malls for different reasons.

Tysons Corner is without a doubt the area's premier mall. They get a a lot of "first-to-market" and "concept" stores that retailers are testing to see how they will fare. Think Ruehl, Martin + Osa, Janeville. Montgomery Mall has big plans to redevelop into more of a lifestyle center, and I am anxious to see how it will work out. I used to eat lunch at the Mall in Columbia almost every day, so it has a special place in my heart! And I have been really impressed with the redevelopments at Prince George's Plaza -- that is really a good example of a mall starting to find its niche and delivering positive results. Fair Oaks Mall has also seen quite a bit of upgrade over the past two years, and the new Verizon Experience store is amazing. Potomac Mills on Black Friday is a crazy, fun experience. And I go to Eden Center to eat!

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Laurel, MD: I am Black and have lived in Laurel for the past 8 years. Laurel Mall doesn't cater to "Black tastes". If anything Laurel Mall suffers from a lack of options for folks over 25. To me, that is the real issue.

Ylan Q. Mui: Good thoughts.

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Bowie, MD: Don't buy into the hype that retailers are avoiding PG County b/c they are racists. If you look at the numbers, PG Cty has the fewest number of major companies who have headquarters in the county (with Radio One and Giant leaving soon if not already).

Retailers want to locate in areas that have a strong tax base, not a tax base where a large percentage of the residents have to commute to other counties in order to work. PG generates most of their tax revenue from these out of county workers and real estate taxes. That's not as stable as a major company that has taken root and employs many highly paid professionals.

Everyone on my cul de sac either works in Nova, DC, or Montgomery Cty. Until Jack Johnson can bring in non retail giants like a Verizon, Mobil, Marriot, etc. to establish their headquarters (not just satellite workers) here, and of course reduce crime and improve schools, then don't expect too much high end retail in PG County. It's too risky for retailers.

Ylan Q. Mui: Great points.

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Laurel, MD: In parallel to your comments about Laurel Mall, go check out the Prince George's Plaza. It's small, but they must have at least 7 athletic shoe stores there and countless other small time jewelry stores. It's way overkill skewed to a certain consumer.

Ylan Q. Mui: I actually met recently with the management at the mall, and they are planning some tenant changes. They have an interesting strategy, focusing mainly on regional chains with a few national retailers for heft. A Victoria's Secret just opened up there, which was a big deal to get. Plus, they have the Target to draw UMD students.

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re: landmark mall: I found this link Landmark mall's website about the makeover, but it looks rather outdated. Not sure if anything is in the works?

Ylan Q. Mui: FYI chatters!

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Ylan Q. Mui: Thanks everyone for such great questions! If you have any tips or further comments, feel free to e-mail me at muiy@washpost.com. Have a great afternoon!

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