Ridgedale mall in Minnetonka is opening one of the first community gardens on mall property in the country.
It will open June 15 in a 20- by 20-foot space in the parking lot near Cheesecake Factory.
Joan Suko, senior general manager of Ridgedale Center, said the mall is the first owned by Brookfield Properties, a national developer, to test the concept. "If it's successful, they'll consider rolling it out to more of the 160 other Brookfield malls," she said.
The garden is in addition to the 2-acre park being built on Ridgedale's southwest corner that will have an open lawn, a plaza with a stage, fountain, play area and public art.
The two projects are unrelated, but Suko said research has shown that Ridgedale's customers are very connected to the outdoors and gardening. A Party for the Planet event held last year was well received.
Ridgedale's community garden, in its initial phase, doesn't involve the community extensively. The public is not invited to plant their own flowers and crops in the garden, although volunteer weeders may be needed later. In the beginning, master gardeners from the University of Minnesota will be conceptualizing the space and filling five plant beds with flowers and vegetables.
Future plans include building a network of volunteers from local organizations and schools to make the garden more of a community project.
Ridgedale shopper Sharon McCartney of Plymouth likes the idea. "I wouldn't make a special trip to see a community garden, but I'd check it out if I'm already here," she said.
Steve Schmidt of Brooklyn Park, shopping at Ridgedale on Tuesday, said he's looking forward to seeing it. "It's interesting how farmers are splitting land into smaller plots for people to do a little gardening," Schmidt said. "This is a little like that."
Sandy Stein, a Forbes.com retail contributor and founder of Retail Speak on LinkedIn, thinks the mall is on to something. "It's a tiptoe in the right direction," he said. "They could be looking at people young and retired who want a small garden but may live in a nearby condo or an apartment."
In fact, three apartment complexes have opened recently or are under construction near Ridgedale — Avidor, the Luxe and Residences at 1700.
Stein sees the garden projects as another way that malls are reinventing themselves in a time when so many retailers are downsizing or shutting down completely. The community garden has the potential to turn an errand into an outing. "It's repurposing parts of the grounds to greenscape. It's like celebrating multiple seasons outdoors and indoors in an even bigger way than the Dayton's Flower Show did," Stein said.
The garden will be launched at an event from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 15. The program features a summer fashion show, a make-and-take succulent bar with a $50 purchase at a Ridgedale retailer or restaurant, and family-friendly activities.