More abandoned and failing malls are starting to be redeveloped and repurposed across many different industries, one of those is senior housing. There is one group in particular that has started to explore converting shopping malls into a senior housing and a care community, inspired by a Dutch memory care community.
Oklahoma State University has a student design team, overseen by Dr. Emily Roberts, and assistant professor Jeff Anderzhon, who is an experienced senior housing architect, to make a prototype by taking an 800,000 square foot vacant mall located in Oklahoma City and repurpose it into a continuing care retirement community. This community would have workforce housing, a medical center, memory care, assisted living, and independent living areas.
The prototype is still in concept phase, but they are confident that it may soon become a reality. They also believe that the only way to achieve this is through private-public partnerships.
Reusing Dead Malls
American malls in the 1970s and 1980s were anchored by department stores such as JC Penney, Montgomery Ward, and Sears. They became victims of changing habits by the consumers, the boring design and shifting trends of the population went from the suburbs to a more vibrant downtown.
In 2008, when the Great Recession hit the United States, 1100 malls were in operation. One in four malls in the United States are expected to close by 2022, according to the 2017 Credit Suisse report. One of these closings was the Crossroads Mall, located in Oklahoma City. It opened February of 1974 with the main stores being JC Penney and Montgomery Ward. Crossroads mall was seen as being one of the largest construction projects to take place within Oklahoma and it was in the top 10 for being one of the largest malls within the United States at the time.
During the early 2000s the Crossroads Mall hit hard times, and then in April of 2009, it hit foreclosure and it became the property of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York because of the Bear Stearns bailout. In 2013, there was a redevelopment that was announced by it never happened, and then in October of 2017, it officially became vacant.
Some malls have been turned into centers for luxury retail stores, and they are thriving. The ones that are not are either being torn down for new developments or they are being repurposed into a mixed-use building that incorporates healthcare, hospitality, office, retail and multifamily purposes.
With the rise of online shopping and the struggles of brick and mortar retail closures, healthcare is starting to be a large part of mixed-used redevelopments. Toledo, which is an Ohio based healthcare real estate investment trust through Welltower, is working in Charlotte, North Carolina, to redevelop a shopping mall into a healthcare campus for Atrium Health, which will be part of this mixed-use development.
Skyview on the Ridge, an empty shopping mall in Irondequoit, New York, is being converted into an apartment building for people over $43 million and 157 units from Pathstone Corporation and a daycare center in the St. Ann’s Community. Dominium, an affordable property developer in Plymouth, Minnesota, is building senior housing as part of a Four Seasons Mall renovation for $130 million in Plymouth.
And just last week, Buffalo News announced a planned $ 250 million mall conversion that could potentially include retirement homes. Uniland Development and Mountain Development are the owners of the project, and Gensler is the architect. They have reportedly sparked developer interest in people who are over 55 years of age.
Dutch Model Success
Roberts was inspired by De Hogeweyk, a gated village located in Wesep, the Netherlands, specially designed for the elderly with dementia. The dementia residents are provided with memory therapy throughout the day, with caregivers and medical staff available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to provide the necessary care. This enables residents to be more active and use less medication.
She turned to Anderzhon, senior planner and design architect at Eppstein Uhen Architects, who has extensive experience in rebuilding old buildings in old people’s homes, from a Marie Callendar restaurant to high-rise hotels. The two dealt with the application of De Hogeweyk’s design features in a large-scale configuration.
In-Place Built Environment
Shopping malls are great redevelopment opportunities due to the infrastructure was put in place to support heavy foot traffic and multiple uses.
The work done by the students and Roberts at Oklahoma State University focused on the removal of large parts of the mall roof, which was able to create an exterior courtyard as well as walkways that connect to the central area to purpose-built buildings outside of the structure.
These courtyards and sidewalks connect the countless components of the proposed renovation but serve as identifiable guidance. The malls also have the electrical and air-conditioned capacity to power multiple buildings and keep them at a controlled temperature. Their locations have easy access to public roads, and land on the edges of shopping centers can be remodeled to include walls and doors to avoid any wandering off.
Roberts stated that houses of different care levels and for the employees would be constructed on the available land near the shopping center. Independent housing units will have a smaller standardized footprint, while residents who need help and memory will live in smaller group housing.
Anderzhon and Roberts believe that this can be a successful model. The next step would be to convince providers and developers. The ones that Roberts has talked to seem to be interested in the concept; however, a business plan will need to be drafted to find the cost and if it will be possible.
The preferred option would be to have a private-public partnership for programming. This can reduce the risk for the developers and bring in public funds like incentives and tax breaks to capital stack for the redevelopment of this particular mall.
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