Diane Templeton has seen some changes in retail trends in the 13 years she has worked at Lakeside Mall. The department store worker says she has witnessed first-hand the decline in shoppers and the closing of several stores at the Sterling Heights retail hub, the most recent being Sears.
Diane Templeton has seen some changes at Lakeside Mall over the years.
“When I first started it was busy, busy, busy," Templeton says. "Now, we do get some traffic but it's not like it used to be."
Templeton was one of the city's residents who attended last week's unveiling of new plans to redevelop the mall, where the public was invited to comment on design proposals. She is glad the city is being proactive when faced with the competition from online shopping. "I think something needs to be done."
Sterling Heights Senior Economic Development Advisor Luke Bonner says it’s a matter of survival with the rise of online shopping threatening stores. Last year was the worst year on record for brick-and-mortar retail with over 6,700 stores closing across the country. Between 2010 and 2016, Amazon’s sales in North America rose from $16 billion to $80 billion, while Sears is closing 46 stores this fall alone. The last thing Sterling Heights wants to face is the slow decline of a city asset, Bonner says.
Luke Bonner has been advising the City of Sterling heights on how to stay ahead of retail trends.
“With Lakeside, even though it’s an incredible market, it is not immune to what’s been happening to retail real estate,” Bonner says. He and his team have spent the last two years studying retail trends to pinpoint what redevelopment could look like.
Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor agrees that change is necessary. “We all know that that sort of [traditional] retail is dying, but I don’t think retail is also dying - there are strong indications that people still want to get out an shop in-person, at stores, they just need a different experience.”
Residents like Templeton agree that people do still enjoy shopping in-person. "I see a lot of people 'walking the mall',” she says, adding that many shoppers are uncomfortable ordering online. Shoppers Myron and Susan Jakey miss the Panera bread that closed at Lakeside recently but said they still enjoy coming to the mall because for a lot of seniors it’s about socialising and “getting out”.
Lakeside Mall, as it stands, is a fully-enclosed, 1.5-million-square-foot site on Hall Road and is historically the city’s biggest retail hub. It was first opened in 1976, developed by A. Alfred Taubman, expanded in 1990 and received a $3 million renovation in 2007. Former owners General Growth Properties defaulted on a $144 million loan in 2016, and the deed was picked up by C-III Asset Management.
Sterling Heights officials point out that to stay ahead of the retail curve they have to be prepared to adapt, so stakeholders have traveled as far as Colorado to visit former brick-and-mortar mall locations to contribute to the plans. Two new design concepts have been created by civil engineering firm Wade Trim Associates and Archive DS and public opinion will contribute to a full Urban Design Plan. Plans will then go before the City of Sterling Heights Planning Commission and City Council before the end of the year, says Bonner.
The first proposal, “Concept A”, incorporates the existing mall in its present form, without Sears but with additional public space, offices, and residences. The second scenario, “Concept B”, depicts redevelopment without the existing mall, redesigning the property “from scratch” and expanding man-made lakes. Both display how Lakeside could transform into a mixed-use center and are recommended as viable alternatives.
These possibilities were what the city council members, planning commission personnel, and developers were looking for when they visited a mixed-use urban development in Lakewood, Colorado, in June. Their tour of the successful Belmar Shopping and Dining District redevelopment project there focused on key design elements, including street conditions, grand entrances, parking options, mixed-use structures, integration of residential use, building material options, pedestrian experience, and green space.
Taylor says the trip affirmed for many in the planning process that they are on the right track. “We had a vision of what we wanted and to see that it’s possible and to see that it has been done before and learn how they did it first hand, I think, was invaluable.”
Lakeside, however, won’t be a direct replica of Belmar, partly because Colorado development laws differ from Michigan regulations. “So there are a few things we would have to do differently,” Taylor says “But it was a good experience to see how they did it and learn about what we could do.”
The city is primarily keen to avoid is a prolonged “dying-out” or simply stagnant phase, says Bonner. “We want to analyze all the opportunities to make that shopping center area - which is a huge asset to the region - the best it can be.”
Taylor says because Lakeside Mall is such a large area it’s important for the city to be proactive in taking care of it before it become “blighted”. “We can turn it into a downtown-type area, with offices, condos, parks, shopping, maybe theatres,” he says. “So I’m excited about it.”
The redevelopment would also mean thousands of jobs, says Bonner. That would be a welcome boost for the site, where employment at the mall has dropped from 4,000 ten years ago to 2,000 now. Lakeside Mall General Manager Jerry Weller declined to comment until further plans were made.
Bonner says a redevelopment project of this size could cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but would still be worth the boost to Sterling Heights’ economy. He holds up the example of Lakewood, Colorado, where the tax revenue increased 400 times from what it was at its peak decline before it was redeveloped. “So we can expect that it’s going to return significantly, I don’t know if it’s going to be 400x.”