Ace Sunday Editorial: Lexington’s Dead Malls
photo of Lexington Mall’s abandoned interior by Keegan Frank.
As word rumbles around Lexington that Turfland Mall is on the city’s slate for re-development, and that big announcements are forthcoming, another opportunity for community engagement will either arise, or be missed.
Fayette Alliance Executive Director Knox van Nagell contributed a New Growth op/ed piece to this morning’s Sunday Herald-Leader.
In it, van Nagell referenced the LFUCG housing market study this summer and the expressed goal to:
“Create a regulatory environment that will facilitate well-designed, higher-density, mixed-use development. Forty percent of Lexington’s current market prefers to live inside New Circle Road. This percentage is growing, as market perceptions evolve, transportation costs increase and good infill housing is built.”
This should put Turfland Mall and Lexington Mall, each located on a major spoke inside New Circle Road with LexTran stops out front, squarely at the center of Lexington’s “Grow Up Not Out” development vision and policy.
“Smart Growth Around America” asked in May of this year, What Should Be Done With Dead Malls?and re-framed the debate as a chance for visionary communities to step up. Sara Wolfson reported at the time, “The one thing [the experts] all agree on is that the physical space of dead malls is a tremendous opportunity to build something new. And something better.”
When the New York Times assembled a panel of Smart Thinkers this past Spring to tackle the dead mall subject, they noted:
“Vacant malls, shopping centers and big box stores have already been redeveloped into more sustainable, less auto-dependent places more in sync with todayâ€™s demographics. Depending on the specifics of each site, we can expect to see future failed malls re-inhabited, re-greened, or retrofitted.â€
Portland native and Urban Planner Chris Nelson of the University of Utah characterizes dead malls as the next frontier for urban redevelopment. He described dead mall space at a Portland conference last November as “large, flat, well-drained, developable space linked to existing infrastructure. Broad rights-of-way allow easy access. There is space enough to bring in tracks for light-rail trains or streetcars. They are perfect for much denser, mixed-use developments in which people can live, work, shop and eat.” The Oregonian reported after the conference, “Cities can encourage and speed the rebirth of stale commercial sites by establishing development ‘templates’ for elements such as the height, bulk and street setback of buildings, and for parking ratios and landscaping.”
It won’t be easy. As The Wall Street Journal reported in May,
“During past economic cycles, dead malls were frequently redeveloped into mixed-use space that includes apartments, offices or parks. Repurposing mall space today will be more difficult. Lenders and investors are moving away from commercial real estate as property values decline and delinquencies rise on debt used to acquire or develop properties.”
These are all things LFUCG and the Planning Commission should take into consideration as all the Turfland Mall developments are reported in the coming days, weeks, and months.
You can watch the trailer for the documentary, Malls R Us, here “a story of the promise of something better, or a threat to what we already have”: