When will Cincinnati enter the ‘Anti-Mall’ Age?

With the news today that Forest Fair Mall/Cincinnati Mills Mall/Cincinnati Mall or more recently Forest Fair Village is back on the selling block, we have to wonder if the Cincinnati region will begin to accept the idea of suburban mall retrofit. In metro Washington DC several malls have already been converted into walkable town centers with significantly beneficial results. Read more at the Atlantic Cities:

Bethesda, a once-sleepy if upscale inner suburb in nearby Maryland, was almost totally automobile-dependent in 1994 when the mixed-use, multi-block development was conceived for a decaying commercial/industrial strip; now, in no small part because of developments like Bethesda Row, Bethesda feels both urban and urbane, yet still human-scaled. It’s a great place to be.

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  • I think there are two problems here. The first is that the old suburban mall design is woefully outdated and no longer appealing to customers, which you identify here. The second issue is that we have far too much retail space in America, and this overall square footage needs to be reduced.

    As a result, it would seem to make sense to simply take outdated products offline since customers have already voted with their feet, so to speak. Tear this hulking monstrosity down and return it to nature.

    • Eric

      Retail cannibalism

    • “The second issue is that we have far too much retail space in America, and this overall square footage needs to be reduced.”

      I don’t necessarily agree with that. At least in Cincinnati. On one hand we have half-empty malls and empty retail stretches in various parts of the region… on the other hand we have hundreds of thousands of sq. ft. coming online from the Banks to Liberty Twp.

      I totally agree with your first point, though; suburban malls are outdated. Most shoppers today are looking for more experience-oriented shopping. The “experience” of large, blank atriums lined with clothing store after clothing store is boring to most. Walking into a mall and not knowing where you are, or how to get to the store you want to shop at is frustrating and wastes consumers’ time. Those who are okay with wandering want to do so in a pleasant atmosphere (outdoors or, at least, plentiful natural light from the outdoors), and they want real dining options… not just fast food places. All these are cultural changes in the last 15-20 years.

      So the real issues in my opinion are 1) outdated design/layout, 2) outdated choice of stores (as I said, most malls are still lined with outdated fashion retailers and crummy fast food choices), 3) age (both building/infrastructure age and the “buzz” of being new), and 4) location and demographics.

      #4 may ultimately doom Cincinnati Mills aka whatever it’s called now. With Northgate Mall serving shoppers to the west, Tri-County Mall serving shoppers to the east, and Bridgewater Falls serving shoppers to the north, I just don’t see how Cincinnati Mills/Mall draws the shoppers regionally that it needs to sustain itself. Unless, of course, it differentiates itself by becoming a more sports/entertainment complex, as its owners seem to be attempting to accomplish.

  • baker

    Unfortunately for Anderson, Beechmont Mall was replaced by strip-malls (now Anderson Towne Center) with zero residential, arguably worse than the 60’s built mall. These days the bus station is actually quite popular and there’s a weekly farmer’s market. But the entire area is still car oriented and still quite unfriendly to pedestrians. I don’t see any significant changes there for the next 15-20 years. Change is downtown and OTR at the moment.

  • Jasomm

    played with this idea a bit before since my parents live right near here. Here are some retro-fit ideas for the mall in Fairfield:
    Yellow are retro-fit or exiting structures
    Orange are mixed use with apartments
    Red are new
    the orange road is pedestrian only, and all storefronts face away from the parking.
    I also tried to make some connections to local roads to make it walkable/bike-able.
    …Just something for fun

    • Jasomm

      also… not to monopolize the thread. But Cottonwood Elementary in Finneytown (where I went) was razed a few years ago, so I experimented with a retro-fit for the crummy Brentwood stripmall. I put a little more work into this one (here yellow = residential, orange is mixed, red = commercial while black outlines indicate exiting).
      Here I was actually trying to create a gridded downtown Finneytown with SF homes transitioning to mixed use and walkable main street (Winton Rd) uses, rather than just retro-fit the shopping area.

  • Eric

    Because of their nature, townships aren’t going to advocate for something better. Instead of doing something more creating with Northgate Mall and tying it into the vast surrounding residential, they allow the development to add a few outlot restaurants here and there, install a $500K plaza that no pedestrian will ever use, and work with new owner after new owner on minor fixes while missing the big picture.

  • You may want to revise this. Seems the “for sale” article was a false alarm.

    • John Yung

      I noticed that they rescinded the sale however I think the point remains in that we have under performing malls in this region such as Tri-County and Northgate to name two. The only successful mall is Kenwood, which leads me to question if there is any real appetite for mall retrofit in Cincinnati if the mall concept continues to be successful.

    • I was mainly pointing out the broken link.

      But totally agreed on your point. In fact, until recently you could have argued we had 5 under-performing malls (add in Cincinnati Mills, and it’s debatable whether Swifton/Jordan and Tower Place could still be considered malls).

  • Matt

    The Bethesda analogy doesn’t really apply since they benefited from a very busy Metro station in the area with no highways to compete for traffic. Forest Fair was a gigantic mistake almost from the start and really needs to be re-envisioned for a completely different use. Perhaps an office campus or some kind of mixed-use development.