How could this underutilized retail space be repurposed?

Picture of Grand and 17th in Santa Ana, CA
Picture of Grand and 17th in Santa Ana, CA

Recently, I watched a webinar hosted by the International Economic Development Council on repurposing aging retail centers.  The first presenter, Professor Ellen Dunham-Jones, provided a broad overview of retrofitted shopping centers, as described in greater detail in her book, Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs. Prof. Dunham-Jones categorized the retrofits into three categories of strategies:

1.    Re-inhabitation – Making changes within the current building “envelope” while introducing new uses focused on the local community

2.    Redevelopment – Making changes that modify the building “envelope,” often increasing the density and diversity of uses

3.    Regreening – Revitalizing natural elements—such as lakes, water channels, or parks — to attract people and increase adjacent property values

The second presenter, Steve Johnson, showcased an example of a retrofitted shopping center, the One Hundred Oaks Mall in Nashville, TN.  Opened in 1968, One Hundred Oaks Mall was an outdated enclosed mall with low occupancy when it was updated in 2008 for use by Vanderbilt University as a medical center.  The project involved strong cooperation among the City of Nashville, Vanderbilt, and the private developer on features such as public transit access and the reclamation of bio swales.  In addition to providing significant physical improvements, the change increased occupancy and sales for retail tenants, allowed Vanderbilt Health to provide more of its services (with a much lower cost of development compared to expansion on its historic campus), increased appraisal value and tax revenue for the neighborhood by 39%, and improved the perception of the local community.

Prof. Dunham-Jones’s numerous examples provide an encouraging and possibly overwhelming array of options on how to revitalize and repurpose declining neighborhoods.  It’s great to see old and deteriorating retail stores turned into schools, recreation centers, gathering places, and mixed-use developments that respond more actively to their surrounding uses and fit more appropriately into their built environments. But how does a community decide what strategy to use to revitalize an area or how to implement that strategy?

In his case study, Mr. Johnson discussed the process through which the One Hundred Oaks Mall came to fruition.  It wasn’t immediately decided to expand Vanderbilt’s medical services to that location.  That decision emerged through discussions with brokers and visioning charrettes with local community members.  The development team studied the market and kept its options open in order to find what fit best in the specific situation. That process led to the discovery that Vanderbilt Health wanted to expand its medical services.  Researching the context is the best way to match opportunities and realize the potential reuse of an old retail center.

RSG has performed similar work: studying the market, analyzing development costs, and talking to community stakeholders to assess what kind of development is most appropriate in a specific context. 

Written by Dima Galkin, Analyst at RSG.