01 February 2007

Is Natick Mall the Model?

Last month, General Growth Properties Vice President Doug Godine stated that the company plans to expand The Mall in Columbia, and add a residential component to the expansion. After news reports about the expansion were published, I wrote this post:

On Thursday morning (1/4/07), Douglas Godine, the GGP Vice President and General Manager of Columbia, spoke at the State of Columbia Luncheon, sponsored by the Columbia Business Exchange. At this luncheon, he announced plans for expanding the Mall in Columbia. It is way too early to tell what this announcement really means, but it does show some initial similarities to a General Growth Properties project at Natick Mall

Although this announcement is not a complete surprise, it is disappointing. Over the last 18-months, GGP had appeared to be embracing mixed use, evidenced by the hiring of Tom D’Alesandro and a prominent presence at the Mixed Use Conference in November. This announcement of mall expansion is, in my opinion, a step backward.

I have since done some research on Natick Mall. Below are the numbers from General Growth Properties' website for Natick Mall and The Mall in Columbia:

Physical Description

Metro Center:

Natick Mall: Boston
The Mall in Columbia: Baltimore/Washington

Type Of Center:

Natick Mall: Two-level, enclosed, super-regional
The Mall in Columbia: Two level, enclosed, regional mall

Anchor Tenants:

Natick Mall: Lord & Taylor, Macy's, Sears
The Mall in Columbia: Nordstrom, Lord&Taylor, Macy's, JCPenney, Sears, L.L. Bean, AMC Columbia 14

Number of Retail Stores:

Natick Mall: 170
The Mall in Columbia: 202

Total Gross Leasable Area (GLA):

Natick Mall: 1,156,000 square feet
The Mall in Columbia: 1,389,000 square feet

Number of Parking Spaces :

Natick Mall: 5,600
The Mall in Columbia: 7,200

Year Opened :

Natick Mall: 1966
The Mall in Columbia: 1971

Trade Area Profile (Demographics)

Current Population:

Natick Mall: 661,780
The Mall in Columbia: 783,799

5 Year Projected Population:

Natick Mall: 673,854
The Mall in Columbia: 844,023

Current Median Age:

Natick Mall: 38.9
The Mall in Columbia: 36.6

Current Average Household Income:

Natick Mall: $110,559
The Mall in Columbia: $89,439

In my opinion, these two malls have similar physical characteristics and the demographics of the surrounding area are similar. If Natick is the model, what can we expect? A recent Boston Globe article written by John C. Drake details the project, and the concessions made by General Growth:
General Growth Properties Inc., the owner of Natick Mall, is adding 100 luxury stores and restaurants, in a 550,000-square-foot expansion on the north side of the property at Route 9 and Speen Street, as well as 215 luxury condominiums. Developers aren't just adding size. They are adding swank and high style to the staid indoor mall of decades past.
The anchor Neiman Marcus storefront features a rolling gold sign that is inspired, designers say, by the folds of a women's skirt. The plaza where the old mall meets the new will feature a mezzanine "floating" above a water fountain. All around the expansion, birch leaves will hang from a glass skylight.
The mall's developers have been on the Planning Board's agenda for most of its meetings over the last 4 1/2 years. Jim Grant, vice president of development at General Growth Properties, has made the trip from Atlanta for each of those meetings.
The Planning Board's overriding concern has been making sure Natick is compensated for the impact the expansion will have on the town, officials said. "We believe that we've achieved the vast majority of mitigations that any municipality can expect to receive from a developer," said Julian J. Munnich, the board's chairman.
The developer estimates that for the retail and residential projects combined, it is contributing nearly $15 million toward road improvements, street signs, sewer improvements, and other town needs. In return for the right to build the 215 luxury condos, General Growth Properties will create $9 million worth of
affordable housing in Natick.
"I don't think, four years ago, we expected it to be that high," Grant said of the total mitigation costs. "In every case, we said, 'Gosh, this is tough, but we can live with this amount.' "
Natick would not have received the concessions "unless the town could show they had the wherewithal to be serious in its negotiations," Munnich said.

I believe there are some familiar themes that run through Natick’s experience and what would probably happen here Columbia. For a summary, the Boston Globe also published the following data in a separate article. Anybody have any thoughts?


Anonymous said...

Nice comparative analysis.

An upcoming Mall expansion having a residential component to it, while not unexpected by some, has some positives and negatives.

My guess is it will differ from other Columbia residences in that these residences may be considerably more distant from greenspace than any other Columbia residences. That is, unless GGP's plans include a significant 'greening' of the Mall environs. Hopefully, they will. A resident-accessible green roof would be a good start. Expanding green roof cover to any adjacent parking structures would also be a plus.

The question still stands if additional residential density should be permitted in Town Center. Columbia was designed for a certain density and increasing beyond that density brings not only substantial initial costs to beef up public infrastructure, but also considerable ongoing costs to maintain expanded public infrastructure and services.

Anonymous said...

I hope GGP looks closely at what they have at the Mall. Everything I've seen ranks it near the top of everything -- sales, popularity, demand for retail locations, etc. And what a better testament to the roots of Columbia than to not only improve profitability and other appropriate corporate goals, but to help move Columbia (and the future of Town Center) to the next level. While many believe in status quo and preserving nearby greenspace, the future of developing the area (both mall and nearby) is in smart, desired and well-designed growth. The region is crying for a real city center. It's, by default, the Mall area now. Why not make it the best it can be, by embracing its future role in the region as opposed to the 'same ole' expansion or preservation mantras we hear all the time.

Anonymous said...

"The region is crying for a real city center"

Sources please? I haven't seen a referendum that demonstrates this is truly the case. Just what does Town Center lack that you purport the region pines for? And, by the way, the region already has several city centers of the type I'm assuming you envision.

Moving Town Center to the next level is in the eye of the beholder. My guess is a referendum would show a majority believe green design to be a compulsory facet of getting to the next level. Green, by the way, is smart, desired, and, when it includes development, well-designed.

Solomon Hogan said...

I discover good things in Natick Mall