When a roomful of developers and business owners gather to talk about shopping malls, you’d expect them to discuss changing shopper habits, and the comparative attractions of enclosed and open malls.
And a group of 40 did Tuesday morning, Aug. 8 at the Doubletree Hilton hotel in Rockland during a South Shore Chamber of Commerce session on “The Future of Malls.” But they talked about other things even more – town zoning bylaws, malls as “destination places,” and the South Shore’s graying work force and shortage of affordable housing.
South Shore Chamber president and CEO Peter Forman, mall developers and a couple of town planners agreed that all those issues are big parts of any effort to keep the area’s overall economy healthy and growing – not just the malls.
“We may have a great market down here,” Forman said. “But if we’re 11th on the list of 10 (for development), we lose.”
The chamber’s discussion came less than two months after a Cincinnati real estate development firm unveiled plans to transform the Hanover Mall on Route 53 into an open-style retail area similar to the Derby Street Shoppes and The Launch in Hingham.
Hanover Mall opened in 1971 as the South Shore’s first enclosed mall, and has been the town’s economic anchor. PECO Real Estate Partners bought it in October 2016 for $39.5 million and will turn it into Hanover Crossing.
The project got the support of town officials and town meeting for a long-term tax break, which PECO says will pave the way to spend $40 million over the next three to four years on the makeover of the now-tired, half empty mall.
Officials from PECO or Hanover Mall didn’t attend the session. But Forman, Simon Malls development vice president Michael McCarty and others said that PECO’s inside-and-out redevelopment is an example of the how malls and smaller shopping centers need to keep remaking themselves, to keep drawing visitors and customers.
“It’s still about the shopping,” McCarty said of Braintree’s South Shore Plaza and other Simon Malls properties. “But there isn’t one answer. It’s one thing, and then another, and another.”
For customers, that strategy means they’ll be seeing a greater diversity of mall attractions, from fitness clubs to specialty grocery stores and community meeting rooms.
“People are looking for that experience,” McCarty said.
He noted that South Shore Plaza will soon offer family-oriented play areas. The Kingston Collection already offers bowling and go-kart racing.
WS Development vice president Louis Masiello of Chestnut Hill said customers’ increasing turn to online shopping has put greater pressure on malls and shopping centers to become “the third place” for people to go, after home and work.
WS Development is the owner and operator of the Derby Street Shoppes, which was first built as a small, conventional shopping center.
On the municipal side of such developments, Brian Murphy of Unicorn Realty of Norwell and Paul Salvucci of the Saint Consulting Group of Hingham said suburban areas such at the South Shore still put up stiff opposition to the retail and residential mixes that appeal more to Millennials in their 20s and 30s.
Even so, McCarty said that towns and developers should be planning ahead, to meet that generation’s preference for “live, work, play” neighborhoods, when it arrives.
“Boomers have checked out (financially), but the millennials haven’t checked in,” McCarty said. “But the time will come when they’re coming, and we need to be ready for them.”
By Lane Lambert, The Patriot Ledger
Published August 14, 2017
Lane Lambert may be reached at email@example.com.
Photo courtesy of Hanover Crossing