Metrocenter Mall; Phoenix, Arizona

Phoenix was one of the largest cities in the country that I hadn’t personally visited until a few months ago (others on the list include Miami and Atlanta), and I really had no knowledge of its development patterns or neighborhoods. Just looking at a map and guessing which malls might be in a safe place to compete, I’d guessed that Metrocenter was probably one of the staid and sturdy old behemoths of Phoenix retailing, due to its central location right along a major freeway and its large size. This is one of those cases where I was extremely surprised: Metrocenter Mall is one of the largest malls in all of Arizona, and it was once the dominant mall in all of Phoenix, but now it is slowly and visibly dying, due to its age, demographic changes, and outmoded design.

Metrocenter Mall is one of the most centrally-located malls in Phoenix, with frontage right along the busy I-17 corridor. Metrocenter opened in 1973, a joint venture between Phoenix-based Westcor and Homart, the real estate division of Sears Roebuck and Company. When the mall opened in 1973, it was the first two-level, five-anchor mall in the United States, and was not only the largest in Arizona (at 1,400,000 square feet) but one of the largest in the country. Designed as a massive showplace, the mall even had the fuselage of a 747 airliner within the center to house a bar!

Metrocenter Mall’s original anchors were Sears, Rhodes Brothers, Goldwater’s, Diamond’s, and The Broadway, and a large ice skating rink in the food court area acted as an entertainment anchor as well.

At the time, the mall was situated at the far northern extreme of Phoenix, sitting outside of the city limits in unincorporated Maricopa County. Developers believed that development was going to sprawl northward in Phoenix, and that there’d be significant growth to support the center in the future–an assumption that proved correct long-term. Metrocenter immediately swiped a significant chunk of the trade area from the more centrally-located and older Chris-Town and Park Central malls just a few miles south; it was part of a trend that would ultimately also spell doom for Metrocenter decades later.

For a time, the gargantuan center was a major draw for shoppers from all over Arizona, and people traveled hundreds of miles to shop. Metrocenter had a fairly long period of dominance, lasting through the 1980s. By the time the 1990s rolled around, however, things began to change. Phoenix was experienced explosive growth, and development had sprawled well past the once far-flung Metrocenter and newer malls (in particular, Arrowhead Towne Center, opened in 1993 several miles to the northwest in a newer section of Glendale) opened further from the city’s core had stolen much of its thunder. On top of that, the neighborhoods were beginning to look worn and tired, and crime in the vicinity of the center had increased considerably. Many of the neighborhoods west of I-17 were significantly more working class than areas north or east of Metrocenter, and the mall is one of the closest large retail centers to some of the city’s tougher neighborhoods a few miles to the south. Although the movie “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” was filmed in the mall in the late 1980s, it was the beginning of a turning point: the iconic ice rink closed at the beginning of the following decade. Here’s a video of the mall from 1990:

Throughout its life, the mall saw the standard comings and goings of anchor tenants. Rhodes Brothers was converted to a branch of Hawaii-based Liberty House, then to Joske’s. Joske’s was acquired by Dillard’s and the location became a second Dillard’s for a time before converting to a JCPenney. The Broadway was acquired by Federated department stores in 1997, and converted to a Macy’s. Goldwater’s was converted to J.W. Robinson’s, which became Robinsons-May in 1993. After May department stores were acquired by Macy’s in 2006, Macy’s moved from the former Broadway to the Robinsons-May building, leaving the former Broadway vacant.

The ailing mall was sold in 2004 to Macerich and AEW Capital Management, who brought back original owner Westcor to attempt to reposition to the center. They planned an extensive repositioning, including an external renovation (2005) and later an internal remodel (2007) meant to modernize and brighten up the center and its surrounding grounds. However, it hasn’t helped the center much; despite the hulking size and relatively good condition of the property, there is a significant number of vacancies scattered throughout the property, and the poor old place can’t help but feel like a slowly dying beast. JCPenney left the mall in 2007, ironically to return to Chris-Town (where they’d shut several years earlier), leaving a huge gap, and Dillard’s shut one level of their store to downgrade to a clearance outlet in 2009. As a result, 2.5 of the mall’s 5 elephantine anchors are currently dark. The current anchors at Metrocenter are Macy’s, Sears, Dillard’s Clearance Center, Sports Chalet, and Harkin’s Theatres. As of 2010, Westcor decided to abandon the dying mall, letting Jones Lang LaSalle take over management.

These photos were all taken in May 2011:

39 Responses to “Metrocenter Mall; Phoenix, Arizona”

  1. This is a perfect example of what continued suburban sprawl does to super regional malls. As the afluent shoppers move to the next great mall further out from the city core, they leave the older centers like this one in their wake. You see it time & time again especially in those areas that really started developing within the last 40 to 50-years or so.

    Look at not just Phoenix, but Miami, Atlanta, Dallas/ Fort Worth, Houston & Las Vegas as well.

    Also Phoenix’s ecconemy like Vegas was hit extremely hard do to the housing meltdown wich impacts retail sales at all levels.

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  2. Where’s the Discount Tire shop? The one where the old lady (played by a man) throws the tire through the window in a classic 10 second commercial from around 1975 that is still played today.

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    lisa Reply:

    @higgy04, It’s there. In the outer circle on the west side of the development.

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  3. Metrocenter had the highest car theft rate of the valley’s malls (Scottsdale Fashion Square was the lowest). There are some not-so-nice areas surrounding the mall. The outparcel areas of the mall (along the outer loop) are also vacant and make the area look terrible. You’ll find more activity in the southeast area where Castles-n-Coasters is located, and the northwest area where you have newer built retail like Bed Bath and Beyond. That corner also has to restaurants that have died off in AZ: Swenson’s and Sizzler.

    There are a couple unusual things about this mall. One is the fact that there’s an outer loop road (like many of the other malls you’ve seen here) and an inner loop road. Also, some anchors weren’t built with elevators. I believe the Macy’s anchor is one of those.

    10 years ago I worked at Sears (Superstition Springs and Chandler). The Metro Sears and one of the Sears stores in Tucson (Tucson Mall?) are the largest in the state. The Metro Sears was originally 2 stories. I think the basement was used for stockroom space and I believe district offices were there until the offices were moved to the 3rd floor of the short lived Scottsdale Fashion Square Sears (relocated from Los Arcos Mall), probably around 1999 or 2000. Eventually, they decided to expand the store into the basement. I worked with a woman at the Superstition store who was part of the crew that installed the new escalators connecting the basement level. They moved Home Improvement and Brand Central to the basement. One of the 1st floor entrances had mattresses and home fashions. This is the only Sears store in the valley to have a 27 bed mattress dept and have all headboards displayed. Home Fashions was also adjacent. I believe the rest of the first floor was womens/misses/juniors fashions. I’m not sure which floor had shoes and jewelry, but I believe mens and childrens were both upstairs. This store has a much larger selection of merchandise and sizes.

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  4. Demographic changes are the demise of every dead and dying mall. It’s hard to say but I’m afraid its true, as soon as the residential areas around a mall go black or brown, the big retailers leave as soon as they can and the in-line stores follow. Then they let the hulk lie there and decay for a while until urban renewal comes and tears it down to build whatever the particular city chooses, a outdoor towne center, new low income housing etc. The same thing happened in Kansas City, every single mall that was there in 1986 is gone, torn down and either the land is vacant or it has been redeveloped into affordable housing or low end retail, white flight continues to this day and it takes the retail with it leaving a decaying ring by ring of older burbs high with crime and shoddy looking homes. Its really sad that our cities are all like this in 2011.

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    Caldor Reply:

    @jw, this is a pretty gross oversimplification — not only are our cities not “all” like this in 2011, but there are plenty of places where “demographic changes” didn’t lead to the death of neighborhoods or shopping malls.

    It is true that some cities that have a reputation for racial strife–Kansas City is perhaps one of the best examples–saw this pattern in part because white people abandoned malls that were frequented by minorities. Blaming it on “brown people” is disingenuous; racism is a far clearer cause. More racially-tolerant and culturally heterogeneous regions of the country did not experience this impact.

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    Caldor Reply:

    ALSO: don’t discount the impact of the undesirability of smaller, aging housing stock in cities like Phoenix and Kansas City that have been able to sprawl endlessly and build bigger and newer. As generations move on, their houses wind up getting sold to people lower on the economic ladder (many of whom are immigrants or somehow “trading up” themselves), and in cities that grew quickly like Phoenix there are massive swaths of homes that are roughly the same–thousands upon thousands of 1,000 sqft ranch homes built in the 1960s, for example, dominate some of the less desirable areas today. More stable regions of the country with other barriers to growth (such as a lack of available land, mainly on the coasts) did not witness these same kinds of shifts.

    This is to some extent the circle of life, but much like how a 50 year old home wasn’t the height of luxury in 1960, it isn’t now either.

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    SEAN Reply:

    @Caldor, Very well said. I have studied the impact of suburban sprawl & the transit oriented development movement at my job.

    Since you live in the Bay Area, look at San Francisco v San Meteo County. The former is quite walkable while like most of Phoenix, the latter is pritty much car dependent & a challenge to get around.

    Read my post at the top.

    http://www.vtpi.org is a great resource on these issues.

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    Rich Reply:

    @Caldor, Depending on the other amenities available the area, even this kind of housing can be attractive to gentrifiers. In Atlanta, where the gentrification stereotype is neighborhoods of Craftsman bungalows (also very small), even areas with GI Bill-type housing stock have become attractive to new buyers. There are large numbers of people who don’t want/need a large home and can’t afford a mini-mansion. Inner suburbs of DC like Silver Spring, Arlington, and Alexandria with this kind of housing also have become attractive to buyers. Again, amenities matter. Park Central sounds like a mall where location has the potential to enable an ugly sprawlburg (in this case, one with highrises and office employment) to attract buyers and developers who would have given a pass for the past couple decades.

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    SEAN Reply:

    @Rich, True, remember though that the inner suburbs of DC you site have good transit access via Metrorail & local bus services. Most of Phoenix on the other hand has poor walkability & transit service. http://www.walkscore.com is another great resource in reguards to this issue.

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    Rich Reply:

    @SEAN, But many of the mid-century areas that are newly popular in NoVA and Silver Spring are far from Metro and have only infrequent bus service. White people (except for visitors and expats from actual cities) avoid Atlanta’s transit.

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    SEAN Reply:

    @Rich, But many of the mid-century areas that are newly popular in NoVA and Silver Spring are far from Metro and have only infrequent bus service. What areas are those. Most of the DC area has at least some coverage by WMATA, PG’s The BUS, Montgomery’s Ride On, Fairfax’s Connector
    or Arlington/ Alexandria’s local bus services.

    White people (except for visitors and expats from actual cities) avoid Atlanta’s transit. The problem there is two fold. 1. With the extreme suburban sprawl that Atlanta has, it makes transit use quite challenging. 2. When you develop a reputation where the acranim carries a negative racial conotation, it can be problematic atracting riders.

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    Rich Reply:

    @SEAN, I was referring to the gentrifying areas of ATL with mid-century housing. I lived there for 7 1/2 years. Walking neighborhoods of ATL often have nothing to walk to, other than a few restaurants.

    There is transit in the NoVA suburbs, but it isn’t equally dense or functional. I know people who live in Shrilington, Sligo Creek, etc. I use Montgomery County’s RIDE-ON often enough to know how limited and dysfunctional it is.

    The point is that regenerate places that have infrastructure, even if they lack “character” and conform to the rather carbound norm of the Sunbelt. Other examples include some of the Oak Cliff neighborhoods in Dallas, although the housing stock there tends to be older.

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    SEAN Reply:

    @Rich, Car dependency is part of the problem & not the solution. Your own comments about Atlanta bear this out. As someone who has lived there for as long as you have, you should be better informed on what sprawl does to a cities favric.

    I have visited Las Vegas numerous times since 1994 & watched that metro area sprawl in all directions. Many of the inner neighborhoods wich were in good condition a half decade ago, have become deralict & down right creepy. No doubt that areas of Phoenix have gone the same way since both areas really hit the skids since the 2008 housing crisis & they are both still reeling from it.

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    danny august Reply:

    @Caldor, In Phoenix, Metrocenter is not far from an area called Maryvale, which, when originally built in the early 50’s by developer John Long, was the ideal postwar neighborhood. Mr Long was so committed to this development, that he built a Maryvale Shopping Center and even opened up his own department store in that center! You are right – most are cinderblock typical mid century 1000 – 1200 square foot homes with one bathroom and 3 smaller bedrooms. Apparently in the 70s, there was serious talk of the water supply in that area being tainted and it seemed as if the cancer rate of Maryvale residents went through the roof. So, the white middle class did the Arizona version of White Flight and sold out cheap to Mexicans. The neighborhood went quickly downhill and has never recovered. The crime increased, the gangs came, and it became scary. And those current Maryvale residents seem to be the primary demographic of Metrocenter today.

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    Tay Reply:

    @danny august, late response to this comment, but I live in Phoenix, very close to Metrocenter. We’re not actually THAT close to Maryvale. The majority of the Maryvale residents shop at Desert Sky Mall, which to be honest, is in better shape than Metrocenter is store-wise, and may even be safer to shop at also.

    Metrocenter is much closer to Sunnyslope, which is where most of Phoenix’s meth labs are. It’s so bad the police try to avoid the area as much as possible.

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    William Reply:

    @jw, Well Said. Funny, whenever the obvious is stated, the backlash of racism etc. is always brought up. Speaking of Metro Center and as a Native of AZ., some of my fondest memories were of this mall in the “good ole days.” It’s true, the demographic changed, and so goes the cool stores, high end shoppers, etc. Not just minority races either, but the surrounding apartment complexes and older homes were infested with trashy white people as well.

    People like low price deals: Having said that, the small business’s which inhabited the once great mall slowly started to close up shop…as our state was introduced to mega low shopping from newcomers like Walmart, Costco, Home Depot, and Sam’s Club.

    Not too long ago there was a time of equal balance, when families would shop at Price Club etc. but also spend their money in the small business chains which once graced our Arizona Malls.

    Lets not forget about the massive take in of hardcore drugs. The long hair pothead in the Toyota Supra is a thing of the past too. Driving the outer loop of Metro, are the infested apartments of mostly low grade white inhibitors, where the cops took out a second mortgage to control the Jerry Springer cast of numb skulls.

    I agree that economic State Growth is a valuable asset but I also feel that this trend of ultra low pricing for everything under the sun has landed us in a heap of trouble. At what point did settling for second best become a way of life. The country has settled for this new bargain world and the result is goods made elsewhere, whites can’t find a job, and complain that the minorities have taken the jobs they are too lazy to work.

    As a Native, I can only look back at the “old days” of Phoenix living before the infiltration of illegal minorities and low grade citizens from other states and blame our selves. It is what it is, and being called a racist for not following another new American trend “POLITICALLY CORRECT” is just hilarious.

    If I’m a racist, that YOU drop your grandmother off at Westridge or Christown Mall or a store in South Phoenix to shop and then get her reaction at the end of the day….and if you don’t recognize the two malls I mentioned above, than you really have no room to speak.

    William

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  5. Living in Phoenix, when you think of Metrocenter (or, for that matter, any Avenue in Phoenix), you think of crime. The Metro Region of the high school sports governing body includes some of the schools in this area: Maryvale, Alhambra, etc.

    It seems every crime happens at XX Avenue and (insert street here).

    Another mall with these types of issues is Desert Sky — heavily Hispanic. It’s also had a rename (renames = bad news). Used to be Westridge Mall.

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  6. One other thing I remember about this pre-ADA mall is the fact that not all anchors have elevators. At least, Macy’s anchor doesn’t have an elevator. You have to go out into the mall and use the elevator. That first visit my niece was still in a stroller and we had to go use the elevator in the mall to change floors.

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  7. I remember reading somewhere that there were TWO mall-within-a-malls at Metrocenter. There was the Alley, which was carpeted and fairly narrow (had a few stores, including a photography place) and another one where Goth kids hung out.

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  8. I live in the area and have for many years. I do not see what others talk about. Crime is minimal, my neighborhood is quiet and I live within quarter mile from the mall near the local high school. We go out late and nothing has ever happened. Our area right around the mall is largely middle class – maybe lower middle class but many people here have small businesses and have lived here a long time. Maryvale, Alhambra are far from Metrocenter and much closer to Christown, which I do not go near because of the high level of gangs, drug and crime. I feel unsafe in that area. I have a few clients that live in those areas and they tell me to stay out of it as much as possible for my safety. We have gotten a bad rep and it really is for nothing because Metrocenter is not bad people saying. Rumors need to stop.

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  9. I’m a bit depressed that Labelscar doesn’t get as much comments as they used to. I remember days when the comments would be filled with things about malls like Lauderhill Mall, Blue Ridge Mall, Metcalf South Shopping Center, or Pekin Mall.

    Nowadays it seems that the few comments there are mostly about yapping about trivial things in New Jersey malls. Back four years ago, Labelscar was one of the few sites flourishing with new information daily, and now sits stagnant, adding a post less than a month.

    Part of the problem, I believe, is the “Disappointed Blogger Cycle”. Someone stops posting for whatever reasons, people stop coming, comment “revenue” dries up, and there’s less of a reason to post because of so few comments. I weep at the fact that this post and Forest Fair Mall have so few comments (and these are awesome malls).

    The second problem is retail is just too depressing. How many chains and malls have we seen close in the last past five years? How depressing is it to see Kmart and Sears (two important names in American retail) wither under Lampert’s control, or weaker malls slowly lose stores until it’s too late? And what would be the point of updating the many articles on Labelscar with “Sorry, the mall lost both anchors last year and is now scheduled for demolition”, or the like? (although some do need legitimate updates, like Carousel Center)

    Sure, I’d love to see more malls, possibly some you took in 2005-2007, maybe a new Retail Relic article (perhaps Lechmere or Bradlees), or possibly a user-submitted article, but without the commenters like there used to be, it seems rather futile and bleak.

    This isn’t your fault, it’s just the whole “retail site” thing seems to be falling out of favor: The Caldor Rainbow quit updating in March of 2010, and Dumpy Strip Malls lost its domain, leaving only the outdated WordPress site intact.

    Anyway, I hope that Labelscar can survive…maybe it will merge with another site to create one super-retail-history blog. A combination Labelscar-Mall Hall of Fame-DeadMalls.com, all arranged in a blog-like format…that would be a dream come true.

    But it doesn’t have to be that way. Labelscar has always been one of my favorite blogs dating back to five years ago (remember when the malls were so few they could be put in the sidebar of the site, back in the “green” era of the site?) Or am I wishing for a bygone era, just like the retail of old?

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    SEAN Reply:

    @Pseudo3D, I understand how you feel, but remember there are malls in this country that continue to thrive despite ecconomic forces. There are quite a few I personally would like to see. Some of these include…

    1. South Coast Plaza & nearbyFashon Island
    2. Aventura Mall
    3. Roosevelt Field
    4. Plaza @ King of Prussia
    5. Yorktowne
    6. Belvue Square

    Reguardless of age & location, each mall played a pivital roll in there area’s transformation. Most importently each center is still going strong.

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    rob Reply:

    @SEAN, HEY SEAN YOU FORGOT GARDEN STATE PLAZA AND I EVEN SAY BERGEN TOWN CENTER ARE THE TWO MOST THRIVING MALLS IN THE PARAMUS NJ AREA AND EVEN PALISADES MALL IS TRYING THEIR BEST AS WELL BRINGING IN KNOWN SHOPS NOT JUNK.MANY MALLS HAVE HAD THEIR UPS AND DOWNS DANBURY FAIR GALLERIA CRYSTAL RUN, PARAMUS PARK AND EVEN POUGHKEEPSIE GALLERIA WHICH WENT THROUGH MANY STORES SINCE IT OPENED IN 1987. AND IS STILL ALIVE.

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    SEAN Reply:

    @rob, true in regards to GSP since it has historical importence like the others I listed. Tis includes the rapid expantion of the suburbs as not only a place to live, but the next evelution in retailing away from city centers.

    Poughkeepsie Galleria, Crystal Run & Palisades don’t have that history behind them. As a result, it could make malls like them obsolete. Just look at the mall at the top of this post as an example of what I’m talking about. Nanuet Mall anyone?

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    rob Reply:

    @SEAN, yeah this mall is like another nanuet mall.

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    SEAN Reply:

    @rob, The key difference between this mall & Nanuet is that Nanuet died do to a retail shift & Metrocenter suffers from demographic changes. In other words Nanuets customer base just moved on while Metrocenters shoppers moved away.

    The squeeze factor that I described on Nanuet’s thred doesn’t apply here since the entire area around Metrocenter went into decline.

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    Sarah Reply:

    People still live around Metrocenter. The issue is that the surrounding area as a whole has different demographics than it did when the mall opened.

    It’s not the first mall this has happened to in the Phoenix area. Look at Fiesta Mall, for example. It’s in much better shape than Metrocenter*, but the mix of stores in the mall has changed dramatically over the past 10-20 years. Metrocenter simply has to change to survive.

    *If you count the outparcels, the statement doesn’t apply. The retail centers surrounding Fiesta are mostly empty.

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    Prange Way Reply:

    @Pseudo3D, I just added a post :) I’m a lot busier now, and the site actually breaks now and then which is a huge pain to fix. Mall-hall-of-fame is still posting, too, I believe. Fighting that good fight….

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    Caldor Reply:

    @Pseudo3D, rest assured that we’re not going anywhere. The site is more work to maintain than it appears and we’re both busier than we were five years ago (with careers, social lives, etc.) but we have no intention of giving up at all.

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    SEAN Reply:

    @Caldor, Glad to here that you & Prangeway will still be posting. Just to let both of you know this site is at the top of my computers favorites list & has been for several years. Keep up the great work.

    Can I help in any way?

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  10. God, went to this mall once to visit their current Macy’s branch and to browse at their Dillard’s Outlet, I was kind of dissapointed at the quality of both, never went there when it was in better times but I can imagine it must have been nicer, what a shame that they have 2 vacant anchors and a half use one, hopefully they can turn it around!

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  11. Sears will be closing at this mall.

    I predict death for this mall is near.

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    Cathy Reply:

    @Pseudo3D,

    The “MetroCenter” Sears that is closing isn’t the one in Phoenix…..its in Jackson, Mississippi.

    http://www.wlbt.com/story/16412698/sears-metrocenter-on-list-of-stores-closing

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  12. Vacant stores pose big-box dilemma
    Non-retail uses may be required to trim glut of empty space.

    The Republic | azcentral.com
    .
    The growing number of closed supermarkets, electronics superstores and mega bookstores in metro Phoenix continue to weigh down the real-estate market, and the problem may be more troublesome than initially thought.

    With a limited number of tenants looking for large storefronts, owners are finding it difficult to lease top-tier spaces, let alone less-desirable sites. And it’s the less-desirable sites that make up the vast majority of the vacant space.

    Empty big boxes of 10,000 square feet or more represent almost half of the total vacant retail space in metro Phoenix, and the number continues to grow.

    Real-estate brokerage CBRE recently took a close look at the 312 big boxes that were vacant in metro Phoenix at the end of the year and found that only 29 percent could be considered desirable class A or B space.

    The vast majority, 71 percent of the almost 8.6 million square feet of vacant big-box space, could be considered challenged because of location, age, configuration and other factors.

    It could be difficult to find traditional retail tenants for such space, and owners may have to consider non-traditional users, such as churches, charter schools, health clubs and government offices.

    “The secondary space will require a lot more creativity to lease,” CBRE Senior Vice President Kevin Schuck said.

    Some areas of the Valley are particularly challenged. The west side and southeast Valley have particularly high concentrations of vacant big boxes, with the majority considered challenged sub-prime space. In those areas, developers and municipalities may have to work together to redevelop the sites for completely new uses.

    “Some retail space may have to go,” Schuck said.

    Chandler’s glut
    In Chandler, where retail vacancy rates are as high as 30 percent at some intersections, a panel appointed by Mayor Jay Tibshraeny is studying the problem. Chandler has 71 square feet of retail space per capita, substantially more than the average of 44 square feet in the nation’s top 50 U.S. markets.

    “Chandler is almost certainly over-retailed,” the committee said in a recent report to the city.

    Given Chandler’s glut of retail space, the committee said the best way to revitalize some of the more challenged commercial areas would be to find new, possibly non-commercial, uses for the space.

    “Many of the centers within the city’s older commercial areas have likely outlived their useful lives as commercial properties,” the report said.

    “Chandler is seeing some good (retail leasing) activity, but it will never fill up all the space,” said James Smith, an economic-development specialist with the city.

    Phoenix furniture retailer Pruitt’s recently acquired a closed Albertsons supermarket at the northwest corner of Ray and Alma School roads in Chandler and plans to open a store there. But at the northeast corner of Alma School and Warner roads in Chandler, a retail center remains about 90 percent vacant.

    Although the city wants as many retail tenants as possible to generate sales-tax revenue, Smith noted that non-retail uses are better than letting a retail center sit vacant.

    “Offices create employment opportunities, and multifamily (apartments) could bring new residents to the area,” he said.

    At the southeast corner of Alma School and Warner, the city helped Chandler Preparatory Academy transform a former Smitty’s supermarket into a charter school.

    In northwest Phoenix, the Metrocenter area continues to have high retail vacancies. Although there has been a resurgence of retail activity in the area, officials say some of the space may have to be converted to non-retail uses such as offices, schools or housing.

    The big-box vacancies are being driven by overbuilding, the economic downturn and a trend toward smaller stores. While tenants such as Goodwill Industries, Hobby Lobby, WinCo Foods and Sunflower Farmers Market leased vacant big boxes during 2011, closures of Borders, Ultimate Electronics and others left the area with 13 more vacant boxes at the end of the year than at the end of 2010.

    By the numbers
    CBRE reports that during the first quarter of this year, 17 vacant big boxes were being leased. Still, that left 295 vacant spaces and 8.1 million square feet of available big-box space in metro Phoenix. That’s almost three times the 105 big boxes, containing 2.9 million square feet of available space, that CBRE counted in 2006.

    The vacant big boxes have contributed to an overall retail vacancy rate of 12.2 percent in metro Phoenix at the end of 2011, up from 5.5 percent in 2006. In areas with large concentrations of empty big boxes, such as northwest Phoenix and the southeast Valley, retail vacancies are over 15 percent, according to CBRE.

    While Schuck doesn’t expect any chain-wide closures such as Borders or Ultimate Electronics, he does expect big boxes to be vacated as retailers fine-tune their operations. Sears has announced plans to close a number of Sears and Kmart stores, but none, so far, in metro Phoenix. Best Buy closed a Scottsdale store in January and recently announced that others could be shuttered.

    Some stores may shrink instead of closing. As consumers increasingly buy goods online, retailers are concluding they don’t require as much selling space as they once did. Best Buy, Kohl’s, Walmart and others have announced smaller-format stores. In January, Office Depot, which doesn’t operate in the Phoenix area, rolled out a 5,000-square-foot prototype that could replace its 25,000-square-foot big boxes in certain markets.

    Some retailers are giving up larger stores in favor of smaller ones, and others are asking landlords to take back some of their existing space. That could result in more big boxes being vacated or the availability of many 5,000- to 10,000-square-foot spaces that lack storefronts and have other development challenges.

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  13. New Owner Takes First Steps Toward Reviving an Iconic Phoenix Mall
    PHOENIX — Carlyle Development Group has unveiled new mall entrance designs and a leasing redevelopment plan for Metrocenter, a super-regional mall in Phoenix with a long history in the community.

    The redevelopment plans include creating a mixed-use environment, including office and apartments; signing a new anchor for the vacant Broadway location; and consolidating inline shop space to add new ‘mini-major’ mall tenants. Other plans include incorporating family friendly, cultural and entertainment oriented tenants that could re-energize the mall and improve its perception as an unsafe place.

    The mall opened in 1973. At the time, it was the largest mall in Arizona with five anchor stores and ranked in size among the largest malls in the United States. It housed an ice rink and incorporated a fuselage of a 747 airliner into a bar. But the mall began to decline in the 1980s during population shifts, changes in immediate demographics, and the opening of newer malls.

    Carlyle Development Group recently purchased the 1.3 million square foot mall and is repositioning it after a few years in foreclosure and receivership. A gathering last week announcing Carlyle’s plans showed local support for reviving the iconic mall.

    “I am very excited to see the enthusiasm and determination of Metrocenter’s new ownership team to turn Phoenix’s original mall into a destination once again,” said Phoenix City Councilwoman Thelda Williams. “It is about time somebody realized the potential of the mall and the surrounding area.”

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  14. Macy’s 14-store closure round for this spring includes its Metrocenter unit. This marks the second straight year that a dying mall in Arizona will have lost its Macy’s, following Fiesta Mall last year.

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  15. Macy’s is closed. Consignment shop is where Sports Chalet use to be. Dillard’s outlet only uses top floor. Tons of vacancy, but a Walmart will be opening in one of the anchors.

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  16. I became intrigued by Metrocenter right around the time of the economic collapse in 2008. Most Sundays, for 7 years now, my partner and I have walked through the mall and observed and analyzed the decline. We talked with various store owners and managers. We wandered the surrounding neighborhoods. There were so many foreclosures all over the Valley, you could park your car on any street and walk to multiple vacant homes.

    As we window shopped the vacant homes and vacant properties around Metrocenter, it became clear that this infrastructure – with two significant exceptions – is not in any way “ghetto.” The area directly south of the mall is a problem (older, small poorly built homes). And, the openness to I-17 that may have once been a positive, now is a negative as Phoenix’s growth has included the homeless and vagrant. Both are fixable.

    It has been fascinating to watch the Radisson move in, and all the restaurants surrounding the mall – always busy. Conn’s has moved in where Toys R Us used to be. And the mall’s own movie theaters are constantly packed. The light rail is set to join the hub of transportation already at the mall. But all this flurry of activity does not include the mall itself.

    The biggest problem facing Metrocenter is perception. It is in the dreaded “avenues” of Phoenix although it is not in any way influenced by or related to the even more dreaded Maryvale area. Just north of Metrocenter is a business district and townhome configuration with a man made lake. It’s ready for revitalization. It’s a nice area. Tons of retail and food places are bustling all along the Peoria side of the mall.
    The Sizzler is not dead – it’s packed. The Swenson’s is demolished.

    To save Metrocenter would require changing its relationship to I-17, Dunlap and the frontage road. The mall area should not be the stomping grounds for freeway beggars. And the city would have to find a way to deal with – or separate – the neighborhood directly south of the mall. The shopping center where Conn’s is should be demolished and Conn’s moved either into the mall or into a vacant place on the mall’s western edge. Let Castles & Coasters have the freeway/Dunlap area given that they are fenced in as a rule.

    The neighborhoods west of and north of the mall are substantial and, for the most part, nice. Active block watches have returned a middle class sensibility to the area; no tagging or blight.

    The plan to use the former JC Penney as a group of doctors’ offices is a great idea. The plans to create outdoor walkways where there once was mall is also creative and good. The new Walmart was not such a great idea, however.

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