Thirty six years ago today, MTV was launched. The song by the The Buggles “Video Killed the Radio Star” was the first video played. Non-video, radio artists, like Christopher Cross (remember “Sailing?”), suffered, by not being ready for TV. Yet, how many people today actually think about a singer’s video and not their song? Heck, when was the last time you saw a video on MTV?
Just like MTV didn’t really kill all the radio stars, Amazon, demographic changes, and consumer tastes are not killing all the shopping centers and malls. Rather, these developments are changing the way we use and see the shopping center and mall experience.
True, there are a number of so-called “dead” centers. At one time, these were popular (just like Christopher Cross), anchored by Sears, JCPenney, or some other big box store that drew traffic. The structure, zoning, and high traffic areas with good visibility to the community still exist. There is just no draw… no “MTV” … to bring people in. This presents opportunities for developers to resurrect “dead” centers.
In a recent report by commercial real estate firm Transwestern, a number of these “dead” centers are attracting new tenants, with owners/developers repurposing them for other nontraditional uses, such as office, medical, community, fitness, day care, recreation, and restaurants, along with retail stores.
Getting more traffic to the center is the name of the game. Recently, owners/developers have found that restaurants can be effective anchors, especially where a liquor license adds to the likelihood of a restaurant’s commercial success. Legislation, like a new bill recently proposed in New Jersey, could open up more opportunities for restaurants to obtain liquor licenses in the state. While for the most part, the bill was introduced to benefit so-called “Main Street” businesses, it could also be used to benefit restaurants in repurposed shopping centers and malls.
In a similar manner, underutilized or abandoned office parks invite collaboration of municipalities and developers to address vacancies, according to commercial real estate broker Cushman & Wakefield. That process of repurposing and new construction may take years, especially if desired amenities and features involve variances or zoning amendments. The township where an office park is located may need convincing that a change of use is beneficial to the community. If an office park has been vacant for several years while the township waits for businesses to return, the time may be right to propose a different alternative.
While MTV did change the way we listen to music, after 36 years, it’s still the music that matters. Same for the shopping center/mall. Change will occur, but at the end of the day people want to go somewhere for their shopping experience. Redevelopment with a focus on meeting consumer needs and their convenience is key to resurrecting those dead centers.
By the way, Happy Birthday MTV!