Following up with my Dead Malls article, I felt it was only fair to visit some of them. I trekked over to both the Knollwood Mall and Bandana Square (okay, admittedly it wasn’t a trek, I work near Knollwood and live in St. Paul).
Knollwood Mall [St. Louis Park, Minnesota]
It’s unfair to label Knollwood a “dead mall” – it is very much alive. While not thriving, there is activity over the lunch hour and some suburban retail staples exist (e.g.: Applebees, DWS, AT&T Store, TJ Maxx and the Home Goods store). To survive, Knollwood has done what a handful of other struggling malls have done, they’ve turned themselves inside-out.
The exterior, which isn’t connected to the mall, has a healthy existence. The Cub Foods draws a crowd and small shops include typical strip mall additions, such as Subway, Leeann Chin and Caribou Coffee. The inside has a few tenants, but is eerily empty as you walk further away from the main entrance.
There is some action by the Kohl’s clothing store, but the emptiness clashes with the glossy wide-open interior corridors. The space isn’t in disrepair. The mall is in good shape, minus the empty spaces. I’m not sure if Knollwood will ever be the mall it used to be in the traditional sense, but with a location like St. Louis Park, I’m positive there will some redevelopment.
Bandana Sqaure [St. Paul, Minnesota]
This is a more peculiar case. I’ll let an author on DeadMalls.com explain it:
This would be one of the coolest malls in Minnesota – if only it was still a mall. Bandana Square was an early twentieth century railroad station converted into an enclosed shopping center with a historic feel. Somehow it didn’t go over very well – perhaps because it is far from the freeway in St. Paul’s industrial Energy Park. [Link] [See also]
The buildings are phenomenal. The arched windows, the historic brick facade and even the tree layout make Bandana Square a beautiful place (minus the countless empty parking spaces surrounding it). The DeadMalls.com poster is 100% correct: for a mall’s sake – the location sucks. It’s not just that it is away from the highway system, but it’s surrounded by similar style suburban redevelopment industrial parks and 1980s large-scale apartment / condo buildings.
By the way – this might be the most confusing skyway in the Twin Cities. It connects the back parking deck to the main Bandana Square building by bridging a gap over a surface parking lot. It’s hard to imagine that anyone thought this was a good expenditure of money?
At the end of the day, Bandana Square is a magnificent building that has adopted to a life outside of retail. It has a lot of really good tenants, including a hotel, numerous small businesses and a good-sized medical clinic (Aspen - who gave me great help when I couldn’t breathe out of my left nostril – thanks by the way).
There is a larger narrative here, and one that I hope to touch on in the future. That is the story of adaptive re-use. For anyone interested in the topic; here’s a reading recommendation. And here, too.
What’s the plan now? That’s a good question.
I’ve often contemplated what this election mean for America’s towns and cities? I’m not really sure. My guess is that is resembles something like what Bob Collins’ tweet was hinting.
In my mind, one of our political faults is that we ignore how we build places and don’t have anything that resembles a consensus on urban and rural infrastructure development. Our collective culture is still set in the idea that large infrastructure projects will help us grow our way out of debt [See "Debate Questions" on the blog and the related podcast].
The establishment, both liberal and conservative, view projects like the $750 million St. Croix Bridge and the $125 million 169/494 interchange as catalysts of growth – not agents of future debt and long-term maintenance obligations. It’s embedded in our economic culture and how we develop our landscapes.
A great example of lacking a consensus is my hometown: Mankato, Minnesota.
Mankato really wants a vibrant downtown. They’ve pulled out all the usual stops: promote mixed-used development, a historic building facades grant program, improve street, pedestrian and bike connections and reacquaint the town with its riverside. The plan is good, but the City has absolutely no idea how to make it happen.
All the money and time spent towards revitalization efforts is moot if Mankato doesn’t stop subsidizing large competing suburban infrastructure projects that add no real value to the community and quickly become financial liabilities. Public officials on all sides of the political spectrum want the best of both worlds: 1) more quick tax revenue windfalls from easy-to-build suburbanism, and 2) a vibrant downtown. This point is best illustrated by Mankato’s new expensive intersection and its relationship to “new mall building.”
This 1.2 mile blue line represents one of the biggest urban planning blunders in Mankato history. In fact, it probably represents upwards of a $1 billion in extra cost to the small City and its residents over its short 20 year existence. What is the blue line you ask? Well – it is the shortest route that connects Mankato’s Madison East Mall (built late 1960s) to the newer River Hills Mall (built early 1990s). This also ignores that they also built a mall downtown (destroying good urban fabric) in the 1980s.
In the early 1990s, instead of expanding the existing mall and using existing infrastructure in the (still) vacant land surrounding the Madison East Mall, the decision was made to sprawl out the town an extra 1.2 miles. The question I wish would have been asked in the 1990s is: how much financially better off would the town be if it didn’t build the additional roadways, exit ramps, water and sewerage pipes and electric lines?
All of this needs to be maintained into perpetuity. Not to mention that every driving trip for the majority of Mankato’s population burns 2.4 miles more in gas. And for what? In return for the newer mall where city residents get virtually the same stores in a different location? Needless to say, the town is still recovering from this decision, the old Madison East Mall is a ghost town and the buildings that once abutted the commercial hub have gone through 25 years without reinvestment.
My favorite example is the Burger King at the entrance of the old mall. It’s now abandoned. The Burger King closed after access to the fast food restaurant was decreased as a result of a $25 million intersection “improvement” project that was designed to accommodate more traffic towards a newly built intersection ($4 million) and away from an old (and “congested”) intersection adjacent to the River Hills Mall. I’m not mourning the loss of a fast food chain, but merely shaking my head in disappointment and begrudging acceptance at the desolate environment that will continue to ensue once the building starts to fall into disrepair along Mankato’s busiest road.
This cost $25 million. It effectively saves drivers upwards of 1 minute in time and prevents people from having to turn left. This is in addition to another $4 million to build yet another intersection (just slightly down the road) at local Highway 14. All of these expenditures are necessary because of the Mankato’s chosen development pattern. Unfortunately, all of this cost a lot of money and doesn’t pay for itself. Imagine what could be done if Mankato decided to spend the $29 million spent on sprawl-inducing intersections and instead used that money to improve its already existing public infrastructure downtown or neighborhoods?
To give you an idea of the total costs of public infrastructure: The total land and construction of Mankato’s new elementary school costs $8 million less than its two new intersections. At the end of the day, Mankato has money to spend on infrastructure. The town just isn’t spending it in the right places.
This is the problem we have and this is where I agree with Bob Collins’ Tweet: What’s the plan now? For development of infrastructure and our built environment, it looks to be more of the same. If politicians were looking for a stronger economy, they should look to build Strong Towns.
There is something great about experiencing an election with a group of strangers over a beer in a public place.
Unlike the last Presidential election, I stayed in this year. It was quite the juxtaposition to 2008 and 2010 (read: Sweeny’s Pub, plenty of ale and countless mini-corn dogs). Last night I enjoyed my girlfriend’s delicious Midwestern-style dinner of chicken and biscuits and a nice, relaxing night in – yet, it didn’t quite rival the excitement of experiencing election results with a large group of strangers over a pint. There is something excellent about being surrounded by people from both parties, cheering for different candidates, all in the same space.
We need to create built environments all over this country where these interactions can happen more often. It’s one reason that I stress our need for more quality “third” places. Twitter is a good place to communicate, but a great third place is tough to beat.
While it'd certainly be fun to be surrounded by like-minded supporters, I can't help but think there is something missing at single-issue / single-party campaign party get-together. You'll expirience one emotion at these places: joy or despair. But, when sharing a space with a diverse group of people, while you might not get the extremes, you'll hopefully have a relatable expirience with the person of opposing viewpoints. It makes your political opposition human and relatable when sharing a place in close proximity.
Well America – that was fun, but can we please get back to upbeat television ads about fast food, laundry detergent, beer and shiny electronics?
You may also enjoy:
Dead malls. We’ve got a few (six of them according to DeadMalls.com).
It’s an incomplete list, but here’s what DeadMalls.com has archived:
You may also enjoy:
I was reading through the Star Tribune comments section on an article about LED lights. It was a good article, if you happen to be into that, and in all fairness, it does deal with issues outside the realm of what I’m about to write about. That being said, the comment section left me shaking my head at our misguided ideas about being both economical and environmental. The most glaring being a rebuttal comment to the writer’s small jab at the Toyota Prius:
[...] I drive a 2005 Prius. I bought it used with 3000 miles on it. I know have 200,000 miles on the car and drive 80 miles a day. My average gas mileage is 54 miles per gallon. This is finest and most ECONOMICAL, reliable car I have ever owned. I don’t understand the dig in your article. I would buy another Prius in a moment but have never had too. Just sets of new tires!
Let me offer some insight: nothing about driving 80 miles a day is economical or environmental.
We have a major disconnect in this country on what is and what isn’t economical and environmental.If you really want to make an impact on your wallet and the environment, there are a few simple things you can do (and no, buying a Prius is not one of them).
1) Where we live. What would be more economical than driving 80 miles in a Prius would be to drive 2 miles in a Chevy Suburban (or better yet, walk or bike). Living close to work is one of the most economical decision you can make. This is what I call the David Owen / Ed Gleaser argument [by the way, David Own has a new book out that deals with this very issue].
2) The places we build. I don’t want to lament on the suburbs anymore than I have to (it’s a dead horse), but we’ve tricked ourselves into thinking we can make it green. Here’s an example from a local developer’s website:
A half-empty big box parking lot fully illuminated during the night? This makes as much sense as putting a small voltage electrical vehicle charging station miles from anything that matters [the best defense I've read of this is LID and NU].
3) Don’t eat meat (as often). I don’t think vegetarians are vegetarians because they are cheapskates. Not eating meat, or eating it less often, is a great, and easy, way to help your pocketbook and the environment. Meat consumes tons of resources – environmental and otherwise – and cutting it out just one or two days a week would do as much as buying any new green gadget.
The key to making a difference (economically and environmentally) for yourself or some greater existential good, you need to not change what we are buying, but how much we are buying (and not what you are living in, but where you are living).