The center court of Maplewood Mall has been renovated by Simon Property Group, which installed new lighting, tile, carpeting and seating and gave the place a fresh coat of paint. Omar Hattach, owner of four kiosks at the mall, said the renovations are working: “We’re seeing more people.”

Joel Koyama, Star Tribune

Bright new look for older mall

  • Article by: JANET MOORE
  • Star Tribune
  • April 12, 2012 - 1:21 PM

Many shopping malls built in the 1970s still bear decorative, albeit dated, remnants of eras past. For Maplewood Mall, it was the mirrored columns that were probably spiffy back in the day but now seem more appropriate for an aging nightclub.

The once-glittering columns now are gone -- stripped to their original brick facing and encased in cherry-wood molding during a recent renovation of the 38-year-old shopping center in the eastern suburbs.

Other updates include new floor tile and carpeting, the addition of family-friendly restrooms, a redesign of the food court and new energy-efficient chandelier lighting. Even the signature carousel in the mall's center court was dismantled part-by-part and sent to Florida for its owner to rehab.

Sandy Yang, a stylist at the mall's Experts Hair Salon, said the changes came just in time.

"Honestly, it was starting to look kind of trashy in here. It was nothing like Rosedale," she said. "Now it's way cleaner and we're seeing a lot more families and kids. I'm all for it."

The mall's owner, Simon Property Group, won't say how much it sunk into the year-long project. And Maplewood Mall General Manager Jennifer Lewis described the updates as "more of a facelift than a renovation."

But the Indianapolis-based mall king is on a bit of a tear as it spends $700 million to renovate and expand more than 20 of its shopping centers and outlets across the country.

Also on the list is another Simon property in the Twin Cities -- the iconic Southdale Center in Edina, the nation's first enclosed shopping mall. The Southdale project is more comprehensive than the Maplewood work because it involves changing portions of the mall's footprint.

Simon spokesman Les Morris won't break out renovation pricetags for the Twin Cities malls, but the investment comes as shoppers increasingly defect to the Internet, and as big-box retailers shutter in a down economy. Earlier this week, Richfield-based Best Buy said it would close 50 stores nationwide, five of them locally.

Retail experts have long predicted the demise of the traditional shopping mall -- those anchored by big department stores and filled in with smaller retailers, especially as cash-strapped mall owners deferred updating properties in the Great Recession. The Maplewood Mall, just south of Interstate 694 in Maplewood, has long played second fiddle to its more-upscale brethren Rosedale, about 10 miles away.

"I happen to believe that the regional mall is still attractive as a shopping location," said retail expert Jim McComb of Minneapolis-based McComb Group Ltd. "But you have to understand that there are A, B, C and D malls. The A malls continue to attract stores and customers and have high occupancy rates, like Mall of America or Rosedale. I would say Maplewood is a B mall."

Most individual mall retailers update their store design every seven to 10 years, McComb said. "If a mall isn't on a similar cycle, then it begins to look dated. It's just like produce: You have to keep the inventory fresh."

Jesse Tron, a spokesman for the International Council of Shopping Centers, said Maplewood has hit on several national trends in mall updates, such as the addition of natural light (roughly 180 windows were added at Maplewood) and energy-efficient lighting, as well as upholstered seating in the food and center courts. He said other malls have opted for cafe-oriented, sit-down restaurants outside of the food court areas, a trend seen at Mall of America and Southdale, but not at Maplewood.

Gap, Old Navy close

Omar Hattach, owner of four kiosks selling collectibles and gifts and a burrito stand in the food court at the mall, said the renovations have resulted in more foot traffic. "We're seeing more people."

The transition at Maplewood wasn't painless. The Gap store, which figured prominently in the mall's center court, and sister store Old Navy, which took up a significant chunk of real estate on the first level, departed during the renovation. It's unclear why, and spokeswoman Lewis declined to elaborate.

Gap, the San Francisco-based retailer, did not respond to an e-mail query. But late last year it said it was closing more than 180 stores in the United States as it focuses on markets abroad.

The mall recently announced the addition of three new stores -- Cotton On, an Australian casual fashion brand, Crazy 8, a children's clothing boutique, and a Men's Wearhouse. Crazy 8 is going to take over part of the Gap store space while the Old Navy spot is vacant.

Meanwhile, work continues at Southdale. The Edina project includes a new concourse, food court, entrances, elevators, stairs and other mall finishes, including painting over the teal-colored trim that evokes a strong 1980s flashback.

Unlike Maplewood Mall, which did not seek any public subsidies, Simon has requested financing assistance from the city of Edina. According to a proposed development agreement, the package would include a no-interest $5 million loan that would be paid back over an eight-year period. City documents state that Simon would be required to spend at least $14 million on common-area renovations to the mall to qualify for the loan.

The project will be voted on at the City Council's April 17 meeting.

Janet Moore • 612-673-7752

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