Other malls adapt to evolving environment

Mesa Mall opened in 1980. According to local commercial real estate brokers, retail properties surrounding the mall are more popular and more expensive than ever.

Large-scale indoor shopping malls first became a popular concept in the late 1960s and continued to be built into the 1990s.

However, the retail landscape began to change shortly before the turn of the century and many malls around the country have fallen into disrepair, lost money and eventually closed.

Around Colorado, a host of once popular shopping malls have been converted to a mix of indoor and outdoor retail destinations with dining, shopping and living opportunities.

In Lakewood, a city that borders Denver to the west and has a population roughly the same size as Mesa County, its mall fell on hard times in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Eventually, the old Villa Italia Mall was demolished and replaced with a mixed-use development consisting of shops, restaurants, residential living and office space.

"The old mall was the focal point of Lakewood, and when it started to decline in the late 90s, early 2000s, there was a concentrated effort to do something different," Lakewood Economic Development Manager Robert Smith said.

Gone was the spacious parking lot as the space was maximized with the building of vertical parking structures and use of on-street parking.

Target and Whole Foods moved in, as did some popular local and chain restaurants. Shops with a smaller footprint line the interior streets of what is now the Belmar shopping center, which opened in 2004.

"It's really an integrated community with a walkability feel to it," Smith said.

The development occurred because of an investment by the city of Lakewood and is generally seen as a big success in the Denver metro area, driving more retail to the surrounding area and giving the city a "downtown."

Southeast of Lakewood, the city of Centennial had a similar issue in the early 2000s as the Southglenn Mall was reeling, thanks in part to the opening of Park Meadows Mall about seven miles away.

In this instance, the mall's owners, with some financial help from the city, demolished most of the mall, keeping the Sears and Macy's department stores. Around it came another mixed-use development with a Whole Foods, Best Buy, H&M, a movie theater, numerous restaurants and smaller shops, and about 200 residential units.

Centennial Economic Development Manager Neil Marciniak said the project, known as the Streets at SouthGlenn, can be called a success because of the sales tax numbers that have rolled in and the spurred development in the surrounding area.

He said the model for Streets of SouthGlenn seems to be a popular one as malls look to reinvent themselves.

"There's an opportunity within lifestyle centers for added density and residential as the population grows," he said.

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