Now that a purchase is a click away, classic shopping malls are having to remain attractive to consumers in new ways. The City of Calgary and a couple of the malls within the city seem to see the way forward in integrating residential and office space into retail.
This mixed-use concept is a large part of the Eau Claire Market and Northland Village redevelopment, and the Dalhousie Co-op across the street from Northland is joining the project too. North Hill Mall has already partaken.
The city is looking to turn these underperforming and outdated areas into dense highlights of a growing city. But concerns are starting to crop up for current mall businesses and community residents.
Barry Krell, owner of Battlefield Live, a laser tag and airsoft game at Northland Village Mall, hasn’t heard anything from the mall management or developers since September when a leasing agent briefed him on the construction plans.
The mall held an information session for tenants 18 months ago where they laid out the development plans and held a Q&A. Their plan was to redo and sprout up new businesses in the surrounding parking lot before demolishing the mall. This phase looks like it’s just getting underway with the completion of the Northland parking lot MacDonald’s.
However, Krell is concerned the new development will push the per square foot renting cost for the mall to a premium. He says that because the city’s tax system is also based off of cost per square foot, he wouldn’t be able to afford anything even if he approached the mall to secure a new space after the redevelopment.
Kathleen Girardeau, director of operations for Primaris’ western operations, said they were not ready to comment on any rise or fall of renting cost for Northland. They’re still figuring it out.
Despite a gap of communication with development, Krell is prepared to move on short notice. It already happened when Battlefield Live was forced out of CrossIron Mills because of a cafeteria reshuffle in January 2016.
“It taught me a lesson,” Krell says. “You don’t know what’s going to happen. For sure it will be a stressful time when that happens, just like it was back then, but when they decide to give me my notice, I’ll just deal with it then. Either I’ll become unemployed again, or I’ll have a space to move to that’s affordable and that I can continue to offer this service to the people that seem to enjoy it.”
As for the mixed-use project, Krell understands the direction the mall is taking, especially with competition from Market Mall and online shopping. Still, he sees the area becoming a bubble for just the people that live in the mall, and notes that density doesn’t make for a better neighbour.
All the theory behind mixed-use projects and malls has been of particular interest to Kit Dobson, author of Malled: Deciphering Shopping in Canada. What he found in writing his book – and touring Canada, visiting shopping centres coast to coast – was the importance of malls as cultural spaces.
Dobson is waiting to see what effect the movement of living into retail will have on the space itself and consumer culture, as well as the privatisation of space.
“What happens when those malls take over for town squares is you go from what was once a public space, into what is now private spaces,” he says. “What can happen there is much more circumscribed than what can happen in those public spaces.”
Regardless, Dobson sees the city at a point where it has to decide what it wants to be. The importance of these malls in what a future Calgary looks like is yet to be seen, but he’s excited to be here for it.
City movement on mixed-use shopping centres starting to take shape. Produced by Thomas Bogda.
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