Decomposing Grandeur

Per the New York Times, the end of retail is nigh:

E-commerce players, led by the industry giant Amazon, have made it so easy and fast for people to shop online that traditional retailers, shackled by fading real estate and a culture of selling in stores, are struggling to compete. This shift has been building gradually for years. But economists, retail workers and real estate investors say it appears that it has sped up in recent months.

This transformation is hollowing out suburban shopping malls, bankrupting longtime brands and leading to staggering job losses.

More workers in general merchandise stores have been laid off since October, about 89,000 Americans. That is more than all of the people employed in the United States coal industry, which President Trump championed during the campaign as a prime example of the workers who have been left behind in the economic recovery.

We’ve been reading about the death of retail and shopping malls for years now, but the trend does seem to be accelerating.  The trend is especially pronounced in the suburbs, where some are projecting a retail apocalypse as consumers shift their shopping spend to Amazon and other e-commerce outfits.

If there’s a silver lining (other than to Amazon’s bottom line), it’s that suburban malls present great opportunities for infill development.  For a region like ours with an acute housing shortage, the end of the shopping mall era could be a blessing in disguise. It’s politically easier to raze a mall and build dense housing than it is to displace a whole bunch of single-family houses.

Whatever the flaws of the Puget Sound’s suburban-oriented light rail, it will go past a fair number of malls: Northgate and Alderwood Malls will have adjacent stations, as will Federal Way, Factoria, Bellevue, and Redmond.  Everett Mall is somewhat close to a future station.  Tacoma Mall, Southcenter and Totem Lake could be candidates for extensions in ST4.  That’s 10 transit-adjacent malls with a combined 619 acres of  land (only counting the malls and their parking lots and ignoring the surrounding properties, which are also potentially ripe for redevelopment).  Combined, that’s roughly the size of Downtown Seattle (bounded by Jackson, Denny, and I-5).

Of course, some regional malls seem rather unlikely to collapse in the immediate future.  Bellevue in particular has smartly followed the trends and added upscale dining and entertainment to stay viable.  But the trend is clear. The days of a few “anchor” department stores sustaining a forgettable collection of small, interchangeable chain stores are ending.   These spaces could – and should! – be redeveloped into dense, transit-oriented housing over the coming decades.

117 Replies to “Tear Down the Malls, Build Housing”

  1. I think this is a huge opportunity, and I hope both the transit agencies and relevant cities plan accordingly.

    As for Bellevue mall surviving by becoming more upscale and ‘experience’ oriented, it’s important to also notes that it’s becoming more dense and mixed use. The massive expansions on the east side of Bellevue Way are basically 3 story malls at their base with zero surface parking, with office/hotel/apartment towers above to help drive traffic. The west side (the traditional mall side) is becoming more dense, with a 200 unit condo tower to replace the carpet store at 4th and Bellevue Way.

    So, a mall can still be a ‘mall’ while also being redeveloped to bemore dense and mixed use.

  2. “Yuuuge” opportunity here. Most of these facilities you could even redevelop as mixed used properties, retail below, residential above. Build a parking garage so your new facilities can fill up more of the land, and tie in better to the community around them. I’m surprised there isn’t a push for this already. The companies that own the property could see a significant return on their investment pretty quickly I would think as most of the existing mall properties are pretty shabby and in need of renewal as it is. Now just to keep the trouble makers off the property so people want to live there.

    1. Kemper-Freeman’s fight against EastLink was all because the train would bring those troublemakers in “the light blue and pink hair curlers, the shoes that flop, flop, flop along”.

      1. Kemper said he was misquoted, that he wasn’t referring to different people but that Bellevue Square is a place people dress up for, whereas Southcenter is so unspecial that people don’t bother taking off their curlers and flip-flops when they go there. He must know that the 550 follows Link’s approximate path and stops right at his property. What, hoodlums don’t take buses either?

        Kemper’s opposition to Link is his belief that sales is tied to car access. What he wants is more GP lanes on 405 and more lanes in downtown Bellevue, and he doesn’t want any trains getting in the way of the cars.

      2. Kemper Freeman is a [ah]. Of the top 12 malls in North America is sales per square foot, 5 have a subway station directly attached. Considering how low a percentage of total malls have a subway station attached, that is remarkable:

        1. Pacific Centre, Vancouver BC Canada: $1580/sq ft (subway station)
        2. Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas NV USA: $1470/sq ft
        3. Toronto Eaton Centre, Toronto ON Canada: $1320/sq ft (subway station)
        4. Yorkdale Shopping Centre, Toronto ON Canada: $1300/sq ft (subway station)
        5. Ala Moana Shopping Centre, Honolulu HI USA: $1250/sq ft
        6. Oakridge Shopping Centre, Vancouver BC Canada: $1200/sq ft (subway station)
        7. Chinook Centre, Calgary AB Canada: $1055/sq ft
        8. Mall at Short Hills, Short Hills NJ USA: $1050/sq ft
        9. Mall at Millenia, Orlando FL USA: $1040/sq ft
        10. Rideau Centre, Ottawa ON Canada: $1020/sq ft
        11: Sherway Gardens, Toronto ON Canada: $950
        12: Fairview Mall, Toronto ON Canada: $880/sq ft (subway station)

        If a LINK station had been built say directly beneath Lincoln Square, patronage at the Bellevue Collection would explode.

      3. To add to Chris C’s posts about malls with subways, practically speaking it’s six of the twelve with mass-transit attached, since Caesar’s Palace in Vegas is on the city’s monorail. Ala Moana in Honolulu also has a rapid transit station attached. Once you get over the largely irrelevant distinction between underground and elevated look at grade-separated, it makes an even better case.

      4. If by “rapid transit station” you mean “a big bus stop,” then sure, Ala Moana has one.

        Maybe you’re thinking of the light rail station it’ll be getting once their boondoggle of a rail project gets there? They’ve proposed truncating the line before it reaches Ala Moana to save money, so it might never have a true rapid transit stop.

      5. Mike: I’m sorta bemused by that statement. The times I’ve been to Bellevue Square, there’s not a lot of dressy looking people the times I’ve been. Mostly parents with kids, teenagers, and people who are just casually strolling through. The Bravern would honestly be a better point of comparison, since that’s very upscale.

      6. Its more telling that all 5 of the malls with the subway stop are located in Canada, where a transit user is presumed to be a shopper. An adage that I read 30 years ago in the Globe and Mail stuck with me – “in Canada, mass transit brings the shoppers; in the United States its thought to bring the shoplifters”

      7. The idea of a mall you dress up to go to is interesting. I suppose Kemper must be a little older, and may remember a time when this was a more relevant thing. I’ve met older people (in their 90s now) that talked about Oakbrook Mall (in the west suburbs of Chicago, not far from where I grew up) as being a place they dressed up to go to. They raised children in the area in the postwar years when suburban mall development was really getting going. Surely you can imagine a family dressing up, going to dinner and maybe a show downtown, and doing some shopping. That would certainly take place in a big city’s best entertainment and shopping districts — a trip there would be a special occasion for most families — and to a somewhat lesser degree in a suburban downtown.

        The classic malls carried on that tradition, at least initially. Oakbrook was an “outdoor” mall, in that it had the form of a typical suburban mall, surrounded by a moat of parking, with internal walkways connecting shops, but the internal walkways weren’t enclosed. I remember it as a legitimately interesting quasi-public space (on the inside), and as such when I was young my family preferred going there over other malls, all else equal — of course it was as non-public a space as any mall, was nearly auto-exclusive, and was almost completely blank from the outside, but I can understand stuff like “mall-walking” at Oakbrook much more than at other malls. By that time (the ’90s) dressing up to go to the mall wasn’t so much a thing, though. B-Square today is similar to Oakbrook in status; it trades Oakbrook’s interior grace for comfort and ostentation and is much more engaging on its outside edges. I can certainly imagine postwar families dressing up to go there.

      8. Note: Canada has a lot fewer malls per capita. Likely part of the reason many of the top malls are north of the border.

      9. Or they shop in American malls. I asked my Canadian friend about a statistic I heard that 50% of Canadians live within a hundred miles of the border. He said it’s more like 90% of Canadians live within fifty miles of the border. And as the exchange rate changes back and forth at various times (and our gas taxes are always so much lower), in some periods it’s cost-effective to come to the US just to fill your gas tank and spend an hour shopping.

      10. @Al – Funny you should mention that! I grew up in the Chicago suburbs in the 1970s, and I remember my mother telling me to put some nicer clothes on because we were going to go shopping at Oakbrook.

  3. “Bellevue in particular has smartly followed the trends and added upscale dining and entertainment to stay viable.”

    You can’t just do that everywhere. Bellevue Square’s upscaling would be impossible in Federal Way or the Auburn Supermall because affluent shoppers looking for $80 Christmas-tree ornaments don’t live nearby. Northgate has spruced up inside without going all Microsoft, and that may be a more realistic future for some of the outer malls. Others like Federal Way that have been invaded by discount shops and look half empty probably can’t do anything except redevelop.

    1. Northgate has got to be one of the malls with the best potential of redevelopment and a de-emphasis on retail. The mall and stores are tired and worn, Macy’s is far too large, the Nordstrom too small and a challenge for the corporation I’ve heard. Alderwood Mall and downtown probably can address most of the mass retail for the subarea, and University Village for the slightly more upscale shopping. Northgate, as it stands now, seems pointless.

  4. Does anyone know why retail hasn’t popped up on any mall sites in the Seattle area yet? Is it just short-sighted property owners?

    “Mixed-use” “town centers” (i.e., apartments on top of mall shops) have replaced most of the malls in the Denver area, and several in California. In the Vancouver area, developers are busy constructing high-rises on mall parking lots.

    It seems like a no-brainer for University Village and Redmond Town Center, yet these places remain retail only. There is high housing demand in the immediate area, and some people would pay a premium to live directly above the shops and restaurants at a mall.

      1. Don’t get too excited. The new mall will still feature massive parking lots which make going there via bike, transit, or walking much more hostile. The city of Kirkland wasn’t too excited about the setup, but they decided it’s still OK because at least it’s being redeveloped. The Kirkland Urban project by contrast means all those park place surface lots are gone forever to be replaced by underground parking instead, but at least it’s essentially adjacent to 3rd Ave which is the Kirkland DT bus corridor. Even then, I feel Totem Lake’s mall will have better transit access yet it’s designed counter to that. Both should be doing away with surface lots.

      2. Exactly. Giant surface parking and surrounded by giant urban freeway roads. The areas around are ripe for redevelopment but this new development has put a quarter mile of parking lot you’d have to walk across to get to the shopping from those areas. Also, the “transit center” is literally standing on the freeway on-ramp and it’s basically a wind tunnel. Catching the bus there in winter is like ice fishing using your hands. The whole thing is still built for cars and only cars which is one of the main things that killed the old mall.

      3. Well, you have to start from somewhere. And that somewhere, unfortunately, is miles of auto-oriented junk. But they didn’t put a huge parking lot there. They took some of their monster parking area, and are turning it into a place. The bike/ped access won’t be across the remaining parking lots anyway.

        The challenge for a developer in a neighborhood like Totem Lake is that the surrounding properties are junk. It’s a first-mover problem. Why do I want to invest in a nice building surrounded by crappiness? The mall is big enough that, by redeveloping all at once, it can sidestep that. It won’t feel like legacy Totem Lake when you’re walking on 120th.

        The challenge for the city will be to leverage the mall as a starting point for more of the neighborhood. Will developer interest radiate outward, or will it run up against the giant cloverleaf and the five-lane streets everywhere? If it works out, the mega-parking lot can be redeveloped in the future too.

      4. Really the city should have rezoned that entire area ([ah]). Maybe that would’ve even gotten a better result from the developer of #TotemLakeMalls? They could’ve required less parking, more affordable housing, more public benefit because the developer could be more confident that the area around it was soon to become something other than giant sees of indefinite storage for giant metal boxes.

      5. They have aggressively rezoned. It’s very permissive, and the city has expressed openness to making it even more permissive if any developer were to ask. Zoning has never been the barrier to development in Totem Lake.

        (Although, yes, the parking requirements are nuts and developers have been pointing that out).

      6. Even starting from somewhere, it is still essentially right next to a freeway, so not exactly the nicest environment. It would be nice is WADOT aggressively installed noise barriers around these new developments.

      7. “It would be nice is WADOT aggressively installed noise barriers around these new developments.”

        +1. Capitol Hill would like some noise walls too, And last weekend I was down at the waterfront and the roar of the viaduct was particularly loud. It’s amazing that never once in fifty years was there a strong movement to force the state to put sound barriers around all the freeways. New suburban developments get them automatically, but the old Seattle areas that have suffered the longest don’t, with a very few exceptions like Boylston Ave near Roanoke Street. (Which just happens to have the kind of low-density houses that the suburban areas that get sound walls do, never mind that a hundred thousand people in multifamily areas get no help at all.)

      8. Mike, I completely agree about Cap Hill. WADOT’s website doesn’t give one much hope that anything will happen anytime soon, but it is true that there should be more of a movement to do something about freeway noise in urban areas, considering that they don’t cost much but provide a significant benefit to large pockets of people.

        “Sometimes we build noise walls in high-noise neighborhoods that were built before the freeway. These walls, known as “retrofit” or Type II walls. Type II walls are rare because funds for these walls compete with other important programs, like safety improvements and pedestrian accommodations. To be fair to everyone, retrofit noise walls are ranked and built according to a statewide priority list. We build, on average, one retrofit wall every two years. Even if your neighborhood qualifies for one, it may be several years before it is actually built.”

    1. Redmond Town Center is starting to densify. This DRB meeting had a hotel and a large apartment complex. The hotel, at least, is underway.

      Once the rail station location is confirmed, likely right next to the current parking garage, Redmond Town Center is likely to move fairly quickly to fill in their under used space.

    2. The new parking structure just north of QFC in u village is dimensioned oddly with high ceilings and oversized spans and columns. Not that I know much about the project, but it appears to be built for forward compatability as the base for a taller structure.

      1. I was very surprised that they didn’t put any residential above the QFC parking lot, especially since the back side is next to a city street that could have served as a building entrance.

    1. Unfortunately, Mikhail Sergeyevich is not feeling well because he ate something that disagreed with him. But in recognition of my country’s assistance this last November, whichever mall “this” one is will no longer be in the way of a strip mine.

      Also, since Sean Connery is now in his clan chieftain’s secret service, Daniel Craig will now get crew-cut so he resembles me enough to be my understudy. As soon as he learns to say number 007 in Russian.

      James Bond will now have my present and former number. Один! Indicating Mr. Trump made mistake about who is First. And also License to Do Anything I Want!
      Sincerely: Putin. Vladimir Putin.

      Hey, Mike Orr, did I get the driver part for the Crimean trolley-bus chase?


  5. So what will it take to convince Northgate that the future is tall and residential?

    1. Hard to say. It may be that the current lessees have in their contract that a certain amount of parking be supplied. That could change over time (as I said in my other comment).

      It may also be business inertia. They are doing OK, and are simply taking their time and letting things evolve. As property in the surrounding area continues to be developed, and transit improves in the area, there really is no rush. They may be in the same boat as the folks with used car lots down on Lake City. They could make way more money by selling the land and developing apartments, but business inertia keeps things moving slowly.

      They may also be playing the long game, and hoping for a bigger change in zoning. I could easily see big office buildings going up there, next to apartment buildings. With Link it will be faster to get downtown and a lot faster to get to the UW than it is from Bellevue, making it just as appealing to businesses.

      1. Leases are probably a large part of it. Even in mostly dead Totem Lake Malls, they were hemmed in by a few retailers with long leases and options to extend (that Ross could be there another 20 years). In a busier mall like Northgate, planning for redevelopment would be much harder.

      2. The anchor tenants (think Nordstrom, Sears, etc.) usually have super generous leases that have existed for decades, sometimes as old as the malls themselves, because for a long time the thought was without an anchor tenant, the mall couldn’t survive, so the tenant had lots of leverage.

        Often, the anchor tenant can veto redevelopment of the mall, and even if the mall is dying, the department stores would rather have ample parking than, say, some new apartments. This legal leverage can make it hard to redevelop a mall before it truly dies and the anchor tenants want to move on.

      3. Point is is that the anchor tenants are the very entities that are dying… Sears, Macys, JCP. Moving on will kill a whole lot of leases.

      4. @basselle — Exactly. They are also in no position to bargain. If Simon said, “Hey, J. C. Penney — how about we ignore that parking clause and I give you a couple million”, chances are, they would take the cash. Heck, with a lot of those retailers, if Simon says touch your nose, they are going to touch their nose. (Sorry, I couldn’t help it).

        But again, I think Simon is in no hurry with that property. They are taking their time. Business is good, most of the neighboring property is being built up, and will soon reach its zoned maximum. The light rail is still a few years away, and then a couple years later the rail is significantly extended to the north. Building apartments or even office buildings will likely be a lot more profitable five years from now. They may move sooner if the retailers (like Penney’s and Macy’s) collapse, but chance are, they won’t (and these will be one of the handful of places that still make money for them). I have a feeling they are just waiting until all the old leases expire, and when it comes time to renew, being less focused on parking.

      5. Something else may be in play too wrt anchor tenants. Often many of the other tenants have co-tenancy clauses that say “if Macy’s closes, I can break my lease”.

        Not exactly sure what impact that has but it would likely give the mall owner incentive to do whatever they can to keep the anchor tenant for shuttering.

      1. Westfield claims to be looking at “opportunities to create 8,000 apartments on land we currently own in the US and UK”. A 300 unit project in San Diego is going to break ground next year.

    2. How about same persuasion that made South Lake Union property owners decide to replace car dealerships and antique shops with every manifestation of the exact firm that is convincing everybody else to do the same?

      Really tragic to realize that since the discrete transit-oriented communities I keep advocating are exactly the size of the shopping malls they’ll replace, the precedent of the South Lake Union Streetcar means I have to collaborate with the end of bookstores as I now them. And also forgive the destruction of Moka’s Caffe and hope Kakao is allowed to live.

      But at least the forces behind this New Regional Order are going to do more damage to present Administration’s domestic surveillance campaign than any of today’s events in Seattle. And History’s revenge on hair-dye-shaming: new generations of executives increasingly look just like those dress-code violators transit used to bring to Bellevue Square.

      But as a traditionalist, I still respect those plaid polyester pants, white belt, and alligator-logo polo shirt, Kemper!


  6. Retail is definitely shrinking, but that doesn’t mean the end of malls. Besides, there is plenty of retail in the city. Even big department stores, like Macy’s and Nordstrom’s are found downtown. Not to mention REI, which has now seen a spreading downtown engulf it and is doing better than ever as a result. Some of these stores may go away, but it really doesn’t change the dynamic of the area. They will likely be replaced by offices, or in some cases, brand specific stores (like Mountain Hardwear or Patagonia) . Those stores are more popular than ever, because companies know that a lot of people want to touch the merchandise before buying it, even if they buy online. With brick and mortar retailers being squeezed out by Amazon, having a store dedicated to your product (with a knowledgeable staff) just makes a lot of sense.

    In the case of malls, those types of stores will still be around, and restaurants will fill in the gaps. What is scary to so many people, though, is that it is happening so fast. As we’ve seen before when a downtown “dies”, it is hard to get them back once things start slipping. That could easily happen with lots of malls. So before restaurants, bars and brand specific stores can fill in the gaps of a lost J. C. Penney’s or Macy’s, the damage is done, and no one wants to sign a lease. Shifting to housing in that case might make sense, but often it is a case where the area itself is simply not that desirable. So places like Northgate, for example, aren’t likely to see a decline so rapid that it looks like a ghost town.

    But that doesn’t mean that the Northgate Mall won’t change. There are now more Asian restaurants in the Northgate Mall than department stores. It is already evolving to a place that serves the neighborhood, instead of a place that people drive miles to visit. Meanwhile, Simon is sitting on a lot of property that earns them nothing. Parking lots may be necessary to keep the retailers happy, but as time goes on, those retailers will be increasingly ambivalent about the parking, and in no position to bargain. The restaurants and boutique stores have as much to gain from folks who get to their place with an easy walk as opposed to an easy parking spot. Transit, of course, changes the dynamic. I don’t live very far from Northgate Mall, and if I thought there a problem with parking, I would just take the bus. It becomes a lot like downtown — I wouldn’t bother driving. This situation will only get better, as the virtuous cycle of transit continues.

    Purchasing trends may accelerate the switch from retail to housing in malls like Northgate, but that doesn’t mean that places farther away will experience the same thing. Land is cheaper in surrounding areas, which means that rents won’t be as high, which in turn makes building an apartment less profitable. Housing density in the surrounding areas is much lower, which means more people arrive by car. It could happen — and has already in some cases — but I don’t think it is an inevitable trend.

    1. The REI in the walkable downtown core of Redmond, right beside the intersection of multiple regional multi-use trails (you could literally bicycle from Redmond REI to within a couple miles of Seattle REI without going on a street) was apparently not a plus for REI. They moved to a new location in Bellevue which you literally cannot get to on foot or bicycle or even transit really. It is a monument to 1960’s suburban planning. If a company like that is making decisions like this, it’s a bit hard to be too rosy about the future of redevelopment and urbanization of suburban malls.

      1. It’s not that bad, I’ve walked to it before. It’ll be easier to get to once East Link opens, and it’s adjacent to the ERC, which will be a major multi-use trail in time.

      2. I looked up the REI address. It’s 116th & NE 4th, aka Auto Row. Bellevue is betting big on NE 4th Street so it will probably have a bus someday, maybe going to the Spring District and on to elsewhere. The whole Auto Row is expected to be redeveloped and become an extension of downtown, the way SLU has become an extension of downtown Seattle. We can see early indications that it will be a lot of big-box stores, but denser than the first generation. The REI block itself looks like the Ballard Blocks development according to Google Maps.That’s good on the suburban scale. And it will be four blocks from the Whole Foods Link station (what is its official name, Wilburton)?

        But what is this between REI and the station? “BelMar Bellevue Marijuana Store”. My oh my, how times have changed in Bellevue.

      3. Although I am sure there will be desires to build parks, daycares, schools in the Spring District. What happens when Bellevue wants to build a school within 1000′ of a pot store? Does the school get denied or does the pot shop get closed down? Or something in between?

      4. It’s definitely “on the other side of the tracks” (or freeway in this case) but still not very far. Yes, there is everything that I would hate in walking from my old job (in downtown Bellevue) to this place. But if I needed a new ice axe, I would walk it. Eventually, like all of greater downtown Bellevue, it will build up. What was once a land of strip malls (and still is, to a certain extent) will simply look like a 21st century downtown. The streets are still too big, there is a huge freeway in the way, but you could say the same thing about downtown Seattle. Obviously the Redmond location was better (for the reasons you mentioned) but in a weird way, this is actually *more* urban.

      5. REI and Home Depot and Best Buy are not going anywhere anytime soon and the roads aren’t going to get any smaller. This area will remain car oriented for quite some time. Even the plans for the stations have Bellevue-sized roads around them with design speeds of 40-60 mph.

      6. Yep, 120th and 124th are planned to be five-lane roads. It’s hard to believe that Bellevue thinks those secondary streets need to be wider than a major Seattle arterial like 23rd.

      7. I hate the new REI location. It is incredibly stressful to drive to, and I have no other reasonable way to get there. I’m not going to bike on those streets, and I don’t have a lot of hope that the trail will be helpful any time soon. The store itself is oriented to the parking lot, not the street, so even if one were to walk from downtown or take the bus you’d walk around the store to get inside.

        So… I just don’t go there. And I go to downtown Redmond a lot less than I used to.

        However the new location doesn’t seem to bother most people as the parking lot was packed the day I went there.

      8. Here’s a question: if I-405 were built today, would it be built where the railroad tracks are rather than where it is, allowing 116th to be better integrated into downtown? (We’re assuming it’d actually be built and not that Bellevue would be left without a freeway at all.) Alternately, might it have run significantly further east, closer to 140th or Crossroads?

      9. Given that the fact that freeways kill cities is well known now, I am not so sure I-405 would get built today. I-5 definitely wouldn’t (which might mean I-405 would, or whatever the one was we were talking about building further east).

      10. Yes, too much has changed to say where 405 would be built or what it would look like. The area was farmland when it was built, with a small town and a couple of schools. If the Interstate era had happened now rather than fifty years ago, we have the technology and motiviation to give it a smaller footprint, such as double-decking it, lidding it, or putting in much more serious sound barriers and pedestrian-friendly design.

      11. Bellevue won’t exist without 405, so it’s an impossible question to answer. The “CBD” of the Eastside would be somewhere completely different, likely along I90, and downtown would just be SF homes.

        I don’t understand the hate towards 5 lane roads … all the roads in Seattle’s downtown at 5 lanes or more. Assuming there are still bike lanes, broad sidewalks, some midblock crosswalks, and whatnot, it’s really not that big of a deal.

      12. “I don’t understand the hate towards 5 lane roads … all the roads in Seattle’s downtown at 5 lanes or more.”

        Four lanes you mean, right in the downtown core. But that area is two or three times as dense as downtown Bellevue. And this isn’t in the middle of downtown Bellevue, it’s on the edge, and the streets only go a short distance before they hit a barrier on both ends. 124th makes more sense because it’s an entrance to 520, and freeway entrances always get the most cars. But 120th’s only purpose seems to be that it’s closer to the center of the Spring District. But five lanes? Will it really get that many cars? Especially with two more five-lane roads on either side. What about the attempt to get people onto Link and buses?

      13. The beautiful thing about road capacity and traffic is that the former creates the latter. If you build a wider road, you will get more traffic until that road roughly fills up to the same traffic delays that a road half the size would have. It’s called “induced demand” and Bellevue is the undisputed king of it.

        Bellevue has always had traffic models that show very pessimistic predictions for traffic growth. They build large roads, expand intersections, add more right and left turn lanes, then double left turn lanes and longer right turn lanes. They spend 10’s of millions on timing lights to squeeze a few more cars through intersections at the expense of people trying to cross those streets on foot. They build exactly nothing for people to have an option to ride a bicycle and they make it dangerous and downright hostile to walk to transit so people don’t. They all drive cars. And then when the induced demand from these expanded roads fill up they say “see! we told you we needed wider roads” and then they lather rinse repeat.

        It’s incredibly expensive and gets almost no return on investment. It destroys neighborhoods because cars driving by on highway sized roads are much less likely to stop and patronize businesses than they would if it was a small 2 or 3 lane road with nice sidewalks and protected bike lanes that fill the neighborhood with people and make it seem a desirable place to stop and spend some time.

    2. I actually worry downtown Seattle could go the same way as the malls.

      The Macy’s will eventually close if current trends continue. Pacific Place and Westlake are hollowing out. There are plenty of vacant street-level retail spaces.

      The retail categories that dominate downtown (clothing, household items, etc.) are extremely vulnerable to online competitors.

      Downtown isn’t nearly residential enough yet to become self-sustaining. Once you live beyond walking distance, the allure of online shopping grows. Nor does downtown get enough tourists to drive sales as in Manhattan or San Francisco.

      1. I think Westlake Mall will be fine for the same reasons Bellevue Mall will survive longer than most ‘suburban’ malls … though Bellevue is quickly becoming an urban malls as Bellevue continues to grow.

        It will need to evolve into a more “experience” mall with restaurants, etc., but there should be a niche for luxury shopping.

        “Downtown isn’t nearly residential enough yet to become self-sustaining.” Downtown is adding residents at a rapid place. Plus, it’s super easy to get to with transit.

      2. I’m with AJ. I’m not worried at all about downtown Seattle. It has had much worse days, and compared to this, it is nothing. Besides, if Macy’s goes belly up, I’m sure someone will simply rent it out as office space. There are a lot of companies that would drool over that building — or any of the other retail buildings downtown. It might be that Amazon would snatch it up, which would be all the more appropriate. As for smaller ground floor retail, there might be a lot of churn, but eventually that gets filled in with restaurants, if nothing else. Retail rents in general are very high in this town right now, but especially high downtown.

      3. Hope you’re right, Alex. Because then whole generation driven from our homes in Ballard will once again be able to afford the compact, transit oriented neighborhood we had to flee.

        Except now, our new homes will have elevators. And…Ballard to UW LINK will have been in place since March 2016!


      4. Macy’s has been able to lease the upper floors and they’re doing remodeling on the store now so that would seem to indicate plans to stay downtown.

    3. There’s been some increase in transit-oriented development around Northgate, but it’s been in the surrounding parking lots, not the mall proper. I’m thinking of Thornton Place, and the recently announced affordable housing development on some of the P&R lots. The Roosevelt HCT plan has bike lane access improvements on 103rd or 100th from the East and from the West, the bike/pedestrian bridge and the greenway on 92nd should help. All of this could stand to be more aggressive, but Northgate’s hardly the worst example in the area. There’s also a lot of potential in the planned BRT lines to Lake City, Ballard, etc.

      1. The problem is that the highrise-zoned land in Northgate is the mall property. I’ve heard that the mall owner is the one dragging his feet on a multistory building, thus my concern that if the mall doesn’t build it, the entire village will be underbuild and won’t meet its housing and walkable-commercial potential. I’m hoping we can get a wider highrise area when rezoning comes to Northgate, but it’s not guaranteed at this point.

      2. At this point, MIke, I wouldn’t worry about it. Wander on down to Lake City and see a much more underdeveloped area. Oh, there is growth, but in terms of it “filling in”, there is just a lot more work to be done. Northgate is way farther along. Within a couple years, pretty much all of 5th Ave. NE (across from Northgate) will have six story buildings or public land (e. g. Northgate Library). Much of the other land is either high rise retail (Target), parkland, or old low rise apartments (to the north). In short, other than the mall (which in general is a small chunk of land) it is pretty much all developed.

        In contrast, Lake City development has stalled. It is still going along, but it is nowhere near the pace of Northgate. It wouldn’t surprise me if Northgate has surpassed Lake City in terms of density. There is just so much underutilized land there, much of it owned by the Pierre family, and no one knows when they will sell it to become apartments. Compared to the foot dragging by Simon, the car lot folks in Lake City are much worse. If we want to nudge people to build things where they should be built, that is where I would do the nudging.

  7. It’s politically easier to raze a mall and build dense housing

    Why doze the mall? “Where do you live?” “At the old Northgate Radio Shack!”

    1. Haha. I think it’ll be more like “Where do you live?” “Right by the Northgate Link stop”. Most of the residents will have no idea what used to be there. I’ve lived here 4 years and I had no idea that half of those places listed in the post, like Totem Lake or Factoria, are malls. I always thought Totem Lake was just an eastside transit stop, based on STB. I only know there’s a major mall in Lynnwood because of that special issue of the Stranger dedicated to it in 2014.

      1. They aren’t malls in the sense that they have Macy’s and Nordstrom’s. They have small shops and maybe a couple second-rate big clothing stores like JC Penny or Lamont’s. They’re basically overgrown strip malls, that might at some point have been covered like Crossroads was. We’re using “mall” here in a wide sense, basically for all large retail districts that have more than just a supermarket+drugstore.

      2. That one in Lynnwood is a full-scale mall, Alderwood Mall. It also has a bunch of additional big-box stores spilling out of it like Southcenter. The downtown Lynnwood densification will probably merge into Alderwood Mall eventually, and ST3 Link will have a station at Alderwood Mall, and maybe another one in between, and then go north to Ash Way and Everett.

  8. The structure of the mall will change, with the anchor store model evolving to something more akin to U-Village. However, the idea of malls going extinct anytime soon reads a bit like saying driverless cars are going to solve our transit woes so we don’t need Link, or the flying cars of 2000 (as seen on Popular Mechanics circa 1965) will revolutionize the commute!

    Malls will be here for the foreseeable future, minus the perpetually low performing ones that always seemed to be on the brink (even in the mall culture heyday). They should be encouraged to become more like the mixed use developments you see in Vancouver and elsewhere abroad.

    1. Malls have been failing for thirty years, just not in this region.

      There was also an overbuilding of malls in the 90s, as developers built new ones to entice shoppers from existing ones and generate new local customers. It turned out that the market could not support that many malls so close together. And this was when Amazon was just getting started and only selling books.

      I’ve also read that the US has five times as much retail shops as Europe does, so we could lose 2/3 of them as in-person shopping declines.

      The smartest companies are making their brick-and-mortar and online wings complementary to each other. The stores become more like just showrooms, pick-up spots for online orders, and sales spots for the dwindling core that still prefers to shop in person. I’ve also noticed that more and more retailers are stocking bestsellers only. Just the latest things and one or two below that. Everything older or more obscure you have to buy online because the stores no longer give shelf space for it. All this could also mean stores gradually becoming smaller, as they don’t have to keep so many items and such a large quantity in stock.

      1. >> The smartest companies are making their brick-and-mortar and online wings …

        Yeah, that is what I mean with my previous comment. Folks want to try on a Patagonia sweater, to make sure it fits. Sure, you could order and send it back, but if you are like me, that is more of hassle than just buying it. In the end, the manufacturer wins either way. Go ahead, use up the time of the retailer and ask all the questions you want. Try it on, see if the shade is really like the one shown on your phone — they don’t care. As long as you end up buying it — at the store or online — the company wins. It is completely different with those in the middle, who are completely dependent on people who want it now, or those ethical enough to buy it there if they like it.

    2. Westfield, the company that owns Southcenter, has invested over $2 billion in the retail mall at the World Trade Center. There are 11 subway and PATH trains that serve the WTC, so somebody thinks that transit and malls are a good match.

      Malls also do the bulk of their sales at Christmas time and that’s when the mall parking lots are completely full and the adjacent streets are gridlocked. Many shoppers have switched to e-commerce to avoid the traffic hassles. How many more shoppers would continue to do their Christmas shopping at a mall if hassle-free transit service were available? Northgate will find out, Bellevue will find out, Southcenter won’t.

      1. It’s a New York thing. Ten miles away in Jersey City the big box stores look like Alderwood Mall.

        Westfield also has an urban-format mall on San Francisco’s Market Street, where it took over a grand old Emporium department store; it’s called Westfield San Francisco Center and it’s something like seven stories, two of the upper ones with Microsoft offices.

        Southcenter will have plenty of business from drivers. It’s the biggest mall in south King County where over 800,000 people live. And there’s a whole big box city south of it, with some stores that have no other location in the region. Southcenter will be one of the last malls to die, and it will soon have new residents on Baker Bloulevard and a couple other developments Tukwila is planning. (Baker Blvd will be walkable. The other one south of it I fear will require a car unless the area changes drastically.)

      2. Bellevue Square is a good 10 minute walk from the future LINK station. That is hardly convenient. Especially if the weather is bad and/or you’re carrying stuff. There should have been a station built beneath Lincoln Square.

      3. I’ve always said they should have built the station on Bellevue Way. But it’s Kemper’s loss. It’s not like most transit riders have to go to Bellevue Square; they can go somewhere else if it’s more convenient. And there is a point in having the station further east. It’s closer to the middle of downtown. Zoning drops like a cliff at 100th; the west side is frozen privilege. Sp a station at Bellevue Way would have only a 4-block walkshed on the west side (the width of the mall). And as downtown Bellevue really spreads out east to 116th and 120th, the station will be right in the middle.

      4. Walking to 116th and 120th from the downtown Bellevue station, across the freeway, will always suck. It’s not about zoning, it’s about infrastructure.

      5. When you look at the transit access to Bellevue Mall, what’s more important is that people who work at the mall – many of whom probably can’t afford to live in Bellevue – will have great transit service via link. A 10 minute walk to your job from a Link station is very reasonable.

        People actually shopping at the mall to buy stuff (rather than consuming food & entertainment) will probably continue to primarily drive, which is fine. And for what it’s worth, the few times I’ve shopped at the mall it’s been to do things like stop by the Apple store or buy a new pair of shoes, never to buy bags upon bags of stuff. And I’ve generally just walked the 6ish blocks from my office building (where I park) to avoid having to deal with the craziness of parking at the mall.

        And Mike is right – downtown will shift east over time, especially between 112th and 116th as office & hotel towers are planned to be built right on top of 405.

  9. “These spaces could – and should! – be redeveloped into dense, transit-oriented housing over the coming decades.”

    I think that limiting redevelopment to housing would be foolish. Seattle has a shortage of hotels, and there is also a huge demand for more office space. There are still some government centers/buildings, medical centers and educational centers which have horrible transit access and no rail transit access. We even don’t have a great site for a new arena. We shouldn’t limit ourselves to think about only residential uses.

    In fact, if a soon-to-be-closed mall has great transit access, I would rather see the property become high-rise offices rather than have someone build a new low-rise office complex or hotel a mile or two away.

    Finally, I hope that many of the transit-hating mall owners across America that worked hard to keep rail stations for opening near their properties are now understanding how the narrow-minded stupidity of their opposition has lowered their properties’ investment value now that they will have to sell or redevelop their relic of a commercial building.

    1. Agreed – I think most TOD supporters would agree that mixed use development is better than single use (mall or residential)

    2. Yes, not residential-only. It’s just that housing is the most critical shortage in this town, and putting housing and commercial together means people can potentially live-shop-work without leaving the neighborhood. Hotels should be in the mix, but not taking over because that would displace housing. The emphasis on housing also reflects our biggest difference with the mall owners: the biggest lift is getting Northgate and U-Village to accept housing. I want more offices in Northgate; I can see it as a very promising Third Downtown (after the real downtown and the U-District). And demand will certainly be there, even if it hasn’t taken off yet.

    3. It gets tricky. I remember a nice little graphic put out by a (former) mayoral candidate: I quibble with the order and I’m sure we would all agree that it is an oversimplification. I would put bike infrastructure second, but if if you can build it cheaply, go ahead. There are also places where transit improvements are critical, and bike improvements are not — or vice versa (like Eastlake). But in general, I think the idea is a great one, and I think it can apply in the same way to land use.

      I put housing on the top. Life, liberty and property to me means the right to shelter — a right so basic it has a different trinity (food, shelter, clothing) along with arguably the greatest song ever (Gimme Shelter). But ultimately it is silly to build a six story building (the biggest we can build without extra cost given the natural constraints of wood fiber at the moment) without having some ground floor retail. That right there — for much of the city — seems adequate to me. Put your market/pub/restaurant on the ground floor, and build lots of homes on top. It might be a bit sterile (where is the brewpub?) but adequate, to be sure.

      Office buildings are of secondary concern, in my opinion, and should be clustered only where regional transit access is easy. Northgate fits under that bar, I think, but I’m not sure about other future Link locations. Add 10,000 office jobs in Lynnwood, and I think it won’t work out well for anyone. History is full of examples of well meaning people building things that make sense at the time, but look ridiculous later (like the subject of this article — why would someone drive twenty minutes just to buy a blouse?). I fear that suburban office buildings could be built in this boom time of office work, only to become obsolete, as office work shrinks, like every other profession. Oh, it will likely be the last to go — but of course the owners are dreaming of a day when they no longer have to pay the snotty nosed coder, along with the forklift operator. Yes, the job is is a bit harder to automate, but eventually machines will replace everything that isn’t truly creative, and who amongst us can say they work in an entirely creative field. Not me — I worked for years lining up the zeros and ones, and I definitely had my moments — but I am no Paul McCartney. I’m sure a good machine fifty years from now could replace much of the work I did (although it would not be nearly as witty around the office). As office work shrinks the way that retail work is shrinking and industrial work and agricultural work has shrunk, we will simply need fewer big shiny buildings (or low slung “campuses”). It makes way more sense for the offices to be in the heart of the city, not the outskirts. The outskirts (where I live) will be more the place of living, eating, and playing; the development in those areas should reflect and embrace that.

      Oh, happy May Day everyone!

      1. “bike improvements are not — or vice versa (like Eastlake)”

        Oh he did not just….

      2. “Add 10,000 office jobs in Lynnwood, and I think it won’t work out well for anyone.”

        Where are the 772,000 people in Snohomish County supposed to work? 70-80% of them commute to King County. Snohomish is trying to generate jobs for them. If even two office buildings get built in downtown Lynnwood and end up half full, that will be a good thing. And some of the more outlying companies could, like, move downtown.

      3. “I fear that suburban office buildings could be built in this boom time of office work, only to become obsolete, as office work shrinks, like every other profession.”

        I’ve been reading more about the accelerating effects of automation on the workforce. One prediction stands out, that it will be like Moore’s Law. Even if the breakthroughs get smaller and smaller as they become harder to achieve, each one affects a larger base of previous changes and becomes part of the base for the next one, so a linear stream of changes can have exponential cumulative effects. This morning I heard a prediction of 7% unemployment (the level of the Great Recession) in twenty years or something.

        But, we don’t know how that will affect office space, or where. We can assume there will be less demand, and weaker the further you get from downtown Seattle/Bellevue, but we don’t really know exactly how much or how even it will be. And there are other factors, such as the increasing population in the northwest due to: existing innovation centers, the best chance of surviving climate change, the rising Asian population next door, refugees from red-state policies, pretty forests and waterways, etc.

        So the idea of not building office buildings because the workforce will shrink sounds like the idea of not buying buses because self-driving taxis will make them obsolete by the time the we get them. In other words, not something we should depend on yet. The office-scape is self-limiting because each building goes up one by one if the forecast the previous couple years is still favorable. And there’s no real-estate bubble money sloshing around for “towers to nowhere” like there was a decade ago.

        And finally, if there’s any place beyond Northgate, Redmond, and SeaTac that is most justified in planning a new office district, it’s Lynnwood. It’s the center of an underdeveloped county with more affluent people than South King or Pierce. It has population bases and transit access from all directions. It’s less likely to be sprawly than Issaquah, and less close to the urban edge (i.e., the ST-district edge).

        “The outskirts (where I live) will be more the place of living, eating, and playing; the development in those areas should reflect and embrace that.”

        ROFL. Pinehurst is not the “outskirts”. There are 1 1/2 Seattles worth of people north of 145th Street. One Seattle east of Lake Washington. 2 1/2 Seattles south of S 112th Street. You have to go way further out to find the outskirts, like Woodinville. Even if jobs plummet and people move away, those areas won’t vaporize into ghost towns. We keep telling people not to commute so far. How can they do that if all the jobs are between S McClellen/SE 38th Street and N 120th/NE 100th Street?

      4. This subthread must be cursed. I’ve posted twice and the Internet swallowed it, gone without a trace. Well, here’s a shorter version.

        “I fear that suburban office buildings could be built in this boom time of office work, only to become obsolete, as office work shrinks, like every other profession.”

        I’ve been reading more about the automation of work, and there’s widespread belief it will grow exponentially and slash middle-class jobs in the next twenty years. But, we don’t know exactly how it will affect office space or how even it will be. The idea of not building offices now because the job implosion will overtake them sounds like the idea of not ordering buses now because self-driving taxis will obsolete them. It’s too soon to depend on those things happening.

        Buildings are self-limiting because they go up one by one based on the market forecast two years before. When the number of office jobs starts plummeting and they contract toward downtown, only the buildings already under construction will be built and the ones after then will be shelved. There’s no huge wave of office construction right now, and there also isn’t real-estate bubble money sloshing around desperate to build “towers to nowhere” like there was a decade ago.

        And if there’s any place beyond Northgate, Redmond, and SeaTac that’s best positioned for sustainable new office space, it’s downtown Lynnwood. It has a large population base and good transit access from all directions. It’s less likely to be sprawly than something in Issaquah, and less close to the urban edge (i.e., the edge of the ST district).

        “The outskirts (where I live) will be more the place of living, eating, and playing;”

        ROFL, Pinehurst is not the “outskirts”. There are 1 1/2 Seattles worth of people north of 145th Street. To reach the outskirts you have to go way further out, to Marysville or Mill Creek. We keep telling them not to commute so far. In order to do that, they need local jobs. 3/4 of a million people is too many to say “You don’t matter” or “Your employment doesn’t matter” or “Move to Seattle.”

      5. What exactly is wrong with “Move to Seattle” as a solution for not commuting so far?

        If we distribute jobs further out into what are today the residential suburbs, they will merely sprout even further-flung residential suburbs in their turn, and a generation from now the denizens of the Greater Puget Sound Sprawl Zone Transit Blog will be repeating the same arguments, with Arlington taking the place of Lynnwood, Olympia subbing in for Tacoma, and Cle Elum demanding its own extension of the Issaquah light-rail line.

        We have to stop somewhere. Why not stop where we are, right now, and focus on pulling people back in to live in the urban cores, instead of doubling down on the previous generation’s mistaken drive to distribute them outward?

      6. @Mars: affordability and housing shortage. Seattle is absorbing <40% of the region's population growth. Even if Seattle's growth rate doubled, you'd still need to be adding housing for tens of thousands of people moving to not-Seattle. Also, don't get fixated on municipal boundaries – not all existing job centers and transit nodes are in Seatle; it's better for the region to add a job in Bellevue that it is to add a job in West Seattle.

        Poverty is shifting to the suburbs because people can't afford to move into Seattle.

      7. “What exactly is wrong with “Move to Seattle” as a solution for not commuting so far?”

        Adding 770,000 people would more than double the size of the city. That’s a huge chunk of population to absorb all at once.Even if zoning restrictions were eliminated and the developers went full speed with all the workers and illegals they could find, it would take decades to build that many units in Seattle.

  10. Tearing down failing malls to build housing is certainly a great solution but there’s one major caveat…it’s not so much that malls are failing but that they are consolidating (I work for an apparel and footwear brand). Where are they consolidating? Successful, prosperous and growing metropolitan areas or in other words…the only places where malls are doing well is where there is already a housing shortage. Of course, this speaks to the benefits of density…businesses and retailers do very well in that environment and even malls.I don’t know the financials of the Seattle area malls, but I’d venture to guess the ones that are failing are in areas far removed from Seattle and public transit.

    Perhaps a non-sequitur, but while we’re on the topic of land use. I can’t help but question every time I’m biking through the nearly empty industrial area along commodore near the Ballard Lox or while I’m en-route to Golden Gardens, why we do not build more housing in these areas? I know it’s completely sacrilegious to say anything ill of the port, industry or marinas in this city but is this really the best use of Seattle’s limited supply of land? I know fire away at me for making such an “insensitive” comment but I’m saying it in all honesty as a naive person that simply sees a lot of open and empty space.

    1. I don’t think it’s a non-sequitur, as Frank’s post is basically about brownfield development in general. We should champion Renton’s development of underutilized industrial land around the Boeing & Kenworth factories for all the same reasons we should support redevelopment of underutilized retail space.

      That said, there are strong regional reason to preserve industrial space and not simply convert it all into mixed-use apartment blocks. The PSRC does very detailed work around ensuring there is adequate industrial space for the region economy, to ensure industrial development isn’t out-competed by other uses.

      I personally think the region needs to have a conversation about converting the Ballard-Interbay industrial area into a denser, more mixed use area, that mixes light industry with midrise residential & commercial space, and the maritime industry should migrate to a lower-cost space, perhaps in Kitsap or Snohomish counties.

      However, that should be a regional conversation, just like we decide to decide to preserve agricultural lands or SF zones from redevelopment. It’s a political decision that explicitly pushes back against market forces for various reasons (good and bad).

      1. Great point. And to be clear, in no way was I trying to say we should boot out all industry from the Seattle. Notice I didn’t mentioned SoDo in my post. I live right next to Interbay and could not agree with you more about that area being made more residential. Next to the Magnolia bridge, the port owns a lot there that is empty just about everyday. I’m sure someone out there has an excuse for it, but my real question is why is this never discussed in our city. I agree there needs to be a regional conversation about this as well. There is no reason that Tacoma, Seattle and Everett Ports should all be competing against each other. Heck, I’d be willing to bet a majority of Port workers in Seattle commute from Tacoma or Everett. A lot more upzoning needs to occur in existing neighborhoods in Seattle but we are kidding ourselves if we think that’s enough…we need to better allocate the space taken up in our industrial areas and build more high rises near the marinas.

      2. I agree, I think it should be discussed. The argument for industrial zoning — which is unique in terms of zoning, as it specifies the type of work, not the size or shape of buildings — is that without it, you will soon have a cascading loss of jobs. Not just the jobs making or importing something (which can’t easily be moved somewhere else) but the jobs that depend on it. Suddenly building new apartments in Greenwood are twice as expensive, because they have to get the cement from Tacoma. All because they put up a new apartment on the waterfront.

        It also cuts both ways. If I want to open a brewery, there are only so many places I can do it. A lot of those wonderful apartment buildings that have ground floor retail don’t allow it. So brewpubs — which by their very nature should be close to the people — are often found in industrial areas, like Georgetown or north Magnolia. It isn’t an easy problem to solve, and by all means we should talk about it. Not only in Ballard, Magnolia and Georgetown, but also in SoDo. Much of that industrial land makes sense — it is close to the waterfront, close to the railroad, and there probably aren’t that many people interested in living there. But a lot of it could easily be swapped out in land farther north or south, and SoDo allowed to be an extension of downtown the way that South Lake Union is.

    2. That’s an ongoing citywide discussion, what should the industrial land involve into. One critical point that rarely gets noticed is that the cities that have done big conversions — Vancouver, San Francisco, Brooklyn — the industries were completely obsolete or had fled to the suburbs decades ago and left behind ghost towns. Seattle’s industrial districts aren’t like that: they still have viable manufacturers and trade coordinators, and startups can find spaces between the cracks. (Starbucks was one such startup.) And other things like music clubs and artists’ studios have been filling in too. If you convert all that land to housing, the industries will really be displaced, and they’ll have to move to Bothell and Issaquah and Everett or go out of business. And the trade-related businesses can’t move because they have to be near the container docks. Another factor is that if you allow housing anywhere beyond a tiny bit of edge, the developers will bid up the price of land to two or four times its price, and blue-collar businesses won’t be able to compete at all, so it will definitely displace all of them in that area.

      Having said that, there’s a legitimate debate whether some of the industrial land is more productive than other parts, and whether we can allow mixed-use villages in the least industry-productive parts. Interbay near Dravus Station may fall into that category. And another bad thing that’s already happening in south Ballard and in SODO is the invasion of big-box stores with big parking lots. Those aren’t what we’re trying to save! If the industrial districts become a dumping ground for big-box stores, then we’ve already lost the industries and we might as well convert them to mixed-use. The Big 5 in Ballard and the suburbanesque hamburger chain next to it get my goat. On the other hand, the new multistory car dealerships in SODO have been an effective way to ease them out of downtown and get them to densify.

      1. “Another factor is that if you allow housing anywhere beyond a tiny bit of edge, the developers will bid up the price of land to two or four times its price, and blue-collar businesses won’t be able to compete at all, so it will definitely displace all of them in that area.” – exactly, the issue is really land price, which is dictated by zoning.

        “On the other hand, the new multistory car dealerships in SODO have been an effective way to ease them out of downtown and get them to densify.” – egad! I’d much rather have a big box story than a multistory car dealerships. I’ll save my hatred of car dealerships for another day…

      2. Car dealerships don’t have to look like they do today. I could envision a multi-story building surrounded by 1 or 2 levels of retail on the outside including part of it being a car dealership. But the cars are all underground (or even on the 3rd -5th floors which are parking). That wouldn’t harm the streetscape or walkability. Even the service center could be underground in parking level D.

        The dealership (VW/Audi I think) in the UDistrict on 12th and 47th is almost this except that the entire ground floor is car dealership and service center.

      3. Or, we could just not have car dealerships, and you buy your car directly from an auto company online, and we aren’t wasting precious urban space to store 3rd party inventory.

      4. It used to be fairly common to order a car and wait for it to be built. I recently found a postcard postmarked from Detroit and mailed to my stepfather from his 1st wife. It had a picture of a ’56 Pontiac on the front and it said something to the effect “Ours looks just like this one except it’s green”. She’d gone back to drive the car home. He was always a Pontiac guy up until we got our ’72 Lemans (or was that Lemon). Mazda is one of the best of the major auto manufacturers at flexible assembly lines and essentially builds to order. Albeit orders from wholesalers.

      5. My favorite what-tha? In Buenos Aires was staring at the car dealership inside Constitution train station.

      6. Those Sodo dealerships may not be pro transit, but they do prove a point. Anything that has been traditionally one floir and spread out can go vertical and even look nice. And the best thing is that format must be profitable or else they would have never invested there. If they can do it, any box store can. It still does not solve the issue of affordable land for small businesses, however.

      7. Has anyone been in those multistory car dealerships or know anyone who works there? How well do they work in operations?

  11. I absolutely agree. Many shopping malls after 20 years or so have to be heavily renovated anyway.

    I’d rather see shopping on the first floor or few floors and housing density on the floors above. Private sector transit-oriented development.

    Folks need to realize unless you want sprawl deeper and deeper into the Cascades & Olympics (NO!) and more unaffordable housing + commuting; many will have to live vertical. This isn’t social engineering, this is geography + geometry.

    1. Well said. It doesn’t have to be very vertical in most places, but it does have to be vertical. Paris, Chicago and Brooklyn are excellent examples. Sure, Pugetopolis won’t look like them, and the buildings won’t last as long since they won’t be stone. But three to five stories everywhere essentially triples the number of people you can put in a given space.

  12. There’s another mall in Bellevue that’s doing just great, Crossroads. It’s packed with people because the owner gives a damn and has made it a people place. It doesn’t hurt that it’s in the middle of apartmentville. I don’t think patrons get there by bus all that much but connections, by eastside standards anyway are decent with Rapider Ride B.

    From the plans I’ve seen the Totem Lake development will add a lot more housing in an area that, again, using eastside standards, is pretty decent for transit. The hike to the flyer stop isn’t too bad and I’d expect maybe the 236 or 238 routes to be adjusted once there’s a there there.

  13. The sad part of this is, the malls at the greatest risk have the least likelihood of developing because they are exurban.

    In these areas, when the malls close, it usually takes with it some of the last remaining stable jobs in the area with them.

    Been to Three Rivers mall in Longview or Cascade mall in Burlington lately? These will be the first to go and will reall hollow out the communities they leave behind.

    1. Cascade has a better chance than Three Rivers. Three rivers is a ghost town with Macy’s gone now leaving JCPenney, Regal Cinemas and Sportsman’s wharehouse anchoring the Mall. Cascade’s Two Macy’s stores aren’t being closed, nor is its JCPenney . An AMC Cineplex and Eagle Furniture are the other anchors plus the mall has a TJ Max store that replaced its old food court so Cascade seems better able to adapt and survive than Three Rivers.

      1. True, but both malls struggle much more significantly than any mall in the Everett-Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metro area.

        If either mall were to fail, it would not bring more housing, it would just further undermine the local economy.

        I’m just poibting out that not all malls failing brings new opportunity. Some of the recent retail collapse is clearly catastrophic to smaller economies.

  14. Everett Mall is probably the best candidate being it’s likely loosing another anchor after Macy’s closed and Sears is on life support so that would leave Burlington coat factory, LA Fitness and Regal Cinema as the major anchors all are not traditional mall anchor stores. Everett Mall has been overshadowed by Alderwood for decades and should just be torn down. With its proximity to the Boeing freeway, and I-5 its perfect for housing and transit.

  15. I don’t think malls need to go away. But they will just have to evolve. Instead of stores being there for 30 years or more they will have to set up leases catered to start ups and small retail. In other parts of town individual shops and bars close due to upzoning. If set up right, this could be a place where they could go. When you go to a mall now, it is the same 30 stores anywhere you are. It would be cool to see a prrmanant mall ser up more like a indoir neighborhood street market. The outer ring of parking could be developed. The light rail could take you from downtown in 12 minutes.
    I remember when Northgate was a mall with an Ernst on the south and 3 huge empty parking lots. On the corner was a old Grouphealth building hovering the creek. (Now the transit center). The north had nothing but small houses and some actual farms. This wasn’t in the 50’s. This was as recent as the late 70’s.
    Much still has to change. But since I witnessed a stand alone mall next to farms turn into a mini downtown, my perspective is slightly different.
    People will always have mail order, but people want to go out and socialize. They will always want to get out of the house and shop. The New mall would be smart to capitalize on it all while it still has the choice.

    1. They need to remodel. And the article is encompassing widely diverse situations that have different needs. Most of the failed malls are outside this region: they are actual ghost towns. I mean ghost malls. Some of them have been recycled into community centers, immigrant businesses, and startups. There’s a book about that in the library with lots of photographs; I forget the title. But they still have their low-density car-dependent architecture, which severely limits how much they can hold and frustrates pedestrians who try to walk to them from a bus stop. That’s the issue most of us are focusing on. Malls could help solve the region’s biggest problem, the housing shortage, but only if they redevelop. And they could hold more neighborhood businesses, street-facing storefront, and move some buildings out to the curb and turn the parking lot into a multistory garage, but only if they redevelop.

    2. Here’s the book: Big Box Reuse by Julia Christensen. It focuses on dead big-box plazas rather than malls per se, but it’s the same problem, just smaller spaces.

  16. It’s completely off-base to claim that malls are dying. The very argument completely ignores all of the evidence that many of the smaller stores in malls are thriving. It is true to say that the department stores that anchor malls are dying, but that is already being accounted for with new mall design. Look at newer malls and you will see fewer and smaller anchors, but they will still attract customers for all of the smaller specialized stores.

    Take a look at Pacific Place in downtown and you will see an example of a modern mall. Historically, the connection to Nordstrom across the street may have been the anchor that brought the customers, but today customers go for the selection of smaller retailers.

    You can also look at a project like the Totem Lake Mall renovation that is already underway. The “anchor stores” of this mall will be whole foods, trader joes, nordstrom rack, and ross, and a theater. For Whole Foods and Trader Joes, None of these are traditional department stores and none of them are under particular threat from internet competition. Notably, none of these anchors could fill the type of footprint that a traditional anchor like Nordstrom could, but that’s not really a problem for a new mall built for the smaller anchors.

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