The comment about the dysfunctional nature of traditionalstand-alone malls came from panelist Shaheen Sadeghi, founder ofCosta Mesa, CA-based LAB Holding, a firm that eschews traditionalmalls in favor of projects like its youth-oriented "the Lab" inCosta Mesa, a center that the developer describes as an"anti-mall."

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The five-member panel, moderated by managing principal andpresident Greg Vilkin of San Francisco-based MacFarlane Partners,agreed that the heyday of the freestanding mall surrounded bysurface parking is long gone and that the remodeling, repositioningand razing of existing malls that has occurred in recent years willonly continue. The gist of much of the discussion was thatstand-alone malls as they developed during the suburban boom inAmerica during the past 50 years have run their course, butmixed-use developments including shopping venues as one part of themix are the way of the future.

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The heart of the matter is not so much that retail developerstoday are planning retail spaces, "It's more about urban planning,"commented panelist Yaromir Steiner, chief executive officer ofColumbus, OH-based Steiner + Associates. Steiner said that much ofthe redevelopment of existing shopping centers and the building ofnew centers today amounts to urban planning because it involves somuch more than just the retail component of a project.

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Sadeghi echoed that sentiment, commenting that retail developerstoday "have gone from being mall developers to being neighborhooddevelopers." Sadeghi's firm keeps its eye on cultural shifts andwas one of the first to spot the trend toward "green" living anddevelopments, he pointed out. His company avoids formulas andemphasizes individuality in its projects, he explained, citingexamples like the Camp in Costa Mesa, which is designed to appealto the environmentally conscious and outdoors-oriented.

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The panelists included representatives from two of the biggestplayers in the mall world, senior vice president Thomas D'AlesandroIV of Chicago-based General Growth Partners and Brian Jones,president of the Forest City West Commercial Group ofCleveland-based Forest City. D'Alesandro declared the mall "aliveand well," albeit in different forms than the traditionalstand-alone suburban variety, and he summarized some of GeneralGrowth's efforts to reinvent some of its properties.

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At Columbia Town Center in Maryland, for example, GGP is workingwith citizens and public officials on a blueprint to redevelop TownCenter over the next 30 years. The plan is expected to propose newresidential and commercial development, suggest ways to make iteasier for pedestrians to travel between such the Columbia mall andother destinations, according to a Columbia Town Center website.

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At another General Growth property, the Cottonwood Mall inHolladay, UT, the company is demolishing the old mall to make wayfor a new $550 million redevelopment of the 57-acre mall site thatwill create a mixed-use retail, office and residential project.

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The demolition of Cottonwood Mall illustrates that "a totalscrape" of a mall site is sometimes the best solution for olderproperties, according to Forest City's Jones, who pointed out thatthe factors driving the changes in retail planning today include ashrinking number of traditional department store anchors and theinclusion of new elements such as governmental and cultural uses.As an example Jones cited Forest City's Victoria Gardens in RanchoCucamonga, where the developer included a library, a police stationand a cultural center in designing a project that was a whole newcity center as opposed to a stand-alone shopping venue.

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Nonetheless, Jones said that some of the country's mostsuccessful enclosed malls, such as South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa,will survive. It's the A-minus and B malls that will need to bereinvented, he said, but the owners of those properties will needto put some thought into their plans. "You can't just stick someoutdoor on an enclosed mall and have it work," he said.

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Moderator Vilkin, in setting the stage for the discussion,described the forces that are driving the reinvention of enclosedmalls, including a US population that is expected to grow by 40million to 60 million in the next 25 years and the return of alarge segment of the population to cities and high-density suburbandevelopments that feature "a walkable, pedestrian lifestyle." Muchof the US population lived a walkable, pedestrian lifestyle beforeWorld War II, Vilkin pointed out, but that gave way to the carculture and suburban sprawl after the war. "Now, we are seeing apattern change again" in the return to cities and city-stylesuburban developments, the MacFarlane partners president said.

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Although many of these new developments feature outdoorshopping, the salient point about them is not whether the retail isenclosed or open, observed Steiner. In creating projects thatfeature a walkable, pedestrian lifestyle, the Steiner + AssociatesCEO said, it's not so much that retail developers are creating anew trend, it's more like, "We are just coming back to sanity."

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