O'Keefe in the News

What to do With the White Elephants?

What to do With the White Elephants?

July 13, 2017

As published in Forefront

By Carolyn Riegler

As the retail industry continues to face the demise of the traditional brick and mortar business model, the country is dealing with hundreds of extinct malls. The “white elephants” are not just the business owner’s problem, they are the community’s problem. Hundreds of thousands of square feet of neglected buildings which stand out like ghosts from another time. They are a threat to public safety and a waste of financial resources. But, what can be done with them? In Michigan, we have several examples including the Summit Place Mall in Waterford Township, Eastland Center in Harper Woods, Wonderland Mall in Livonia as well as others gasping their last breath.

Recently, I have read several articles about new uses for these relics. Developers are turning many of these malls into creative alternative use facilities including LEED-certified apartments, senior housing, medical centers, walk in clinics, and community centers including police, fire, and EMS all under one roof. Other concepts have included child daycare centers, auto show rooms, art galleries, indoor farms, public libraries or classrooms. Not all facilities are suitable for these types of conversions, in some instances the buildings will need to be demolished to facilitate the redevelopment. However, proper planning and out of the box thinking could lead to new “downtowns” inside malls and a reinventing of suburban retail, while adding value to the community and its resident’s lifestyle.