The difficulties of giving an old shopping mall a new Main Street

Randhurst Mall, the first enclosed mall in the Chicago area, has received a facelift in recent years but it hasn’t gone perfectly:

By the time Casto bought Randhurst in 2007, the shopping center had long ago ceded primacy to larger, highwayside competition such as Schaumburg’s Woodfield Mall. Casto’s revamp, designed by the Beame Architectural Partnership of Coral Gables, Fla. and 505 Design of Boulder, Colo., removed the dome and the rest of the original mall’s core and replaced them with a traditional Main Street lined by an AMC movie theater, a Hampton Inn hotel, shops, restaurants and offices. A similar street leads in from the perimeter, creating a roughly T-shaped intersection with Main Street.The Main Street area — which Conroy said accounts for all the mall’s unleased space — gets the design basics right. Buildings, two to four stories high, frame both sides of the streets, creating the equivalent of an outdoor room. Benches, trellises and plant boxes add human scale. There’s synergy between the uses, and a link to the outdoors that some shoppers enjoy despite the obligatory piped-in music…

The many minuses begin with confusing internal roads, a predicament partly caused by big-box stores that don’t want their vast parking lots interrupted. In contrast to the modernist unity of Gruen’s design, the center’s outer buildings are an architectural mishmash. The postmodern Main Street buildings, clad in brick and metal, strain to achieve a sense of variety but offer little enticing detail. The street’s directory signs look cheap. The absence of apartments, either above the stores or in free-standing buildings, denies the merchants built-in customers who would drive activity 24/7…

Here’s hoping the signs breathe more life into Main Street and lead Randhurst to a future of greater density, a richer mix of uses and better connections to nearby neighborhoods. For now, its Main Street is essentially a lifestyle center in the middle of a mall — an urban fragment surrounded by the same old suburbia.

It sounds like the issue may be that the mall is trying to mix two styles that don’t necessarily go together: keeping big box anchors while also trying to create denser areas (that still are highly dependent on people driving to). Would it have been better to get rid of most or all of the old mall and start over with the lifestyle center rather than trying to mix the two? While this assessment focuses mainly on the design, there are also costs to keep in mind including keeping some parts of the mall open during renovation.

Perhaps things will change once the new Main Street area is leased. Perhaps there is a longer-term plan in the works that will better combine the two areas. But, I would suggest that even that carrying out the design of the new section perfectly doesn’t necessarily guarantee a good outcome for a suburban shopping mall.

One thought on “The difficulties of giving an old shopping mall a new Main Street

  1. Pingback: Why Americans love suburbs #5: cars and driving | Legally Sociable

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