Malls: Another One Bites the Dust

The coolest mall that I can think of is in serious trouble.

According to ABC 4, Salt Lake City’s Trolley Square mall has defaulted on millions of dollars in debt:

Bank of America has filed a complaint against the group that operates the Mall. It states the Mall’s Manager owe more than 50 million dollars in loans.

The story attributes the mall’s troubles to the infamous shooting in 2007 and the recession. Oddly, it fails to mention that Salt Lake City also became completely over saturated with newer malls — e.g. Gateway, City Creek — and that the market cannot support an ever growing number of shopping centers. In the past, I’ve referred to this idea as Salt Lake City’s “mall bubble.”

City Creek in Salt Lake. Obviously, building several new malls isn’t likely to have a great impact on existing older ones. It’s no surprise, then, that Trolley Square is now struggling.

Though Trolley Square’s demise seems fairly obvious, the situation is really unfortunate. Unlike most malls, Trolley Square is an example of adaptive repurposing; the building was an old trolley barn that was converted to retail space years ago. That sort of project is typically greener than building a new structure, and in the case of Trolley Square produced a rare mall that had some genuine charm and character.

But it has clearly been struggling for a while now. The last time I visited, nearly a year ago, it felt deserted. It was a surprising and erie environment that contrasted sharply with my first visit years ago. Presumably, things haven’t improved.

The ABC story states that the owners don’t want to shut the mall down, though given the general state of malls in America I’d say that’s very optimistic thinking.

But in any case, this situation offers a couple of clear lessons. First, don’t build so many malls. A given geographic area can only support so many retail centers and Salt Lake leaders bafflingly seem to have forgotten that fact. Utah County leaders may also need to keep it in mind.

Second, don’t assume any mall is immune to failure. In Utah County in particular there seems to be a sense that the malls are going to survive simply because people want them to. I wish that were the case, but Salt Lake City is denser and richer than Provo or Orem. Trolley Square was physically better than the malls in Utah County.

And yet it’s still failing.

The point is that the same thing could very easily happen in Utah County if owners and managers don’t start thinking of some radical solutions.

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9 Comments

Filed under economics

9 responses to “Malls: Another One Bites the Dust

  1. landon

    The Provo-Orem malls are an interesting situation. University Mall has two zombie anchor stores, but it seems like there are always people there. Provo Towne Centre is relatively empty, but the attached Red Robin and movie theater are always packed.

  2. Heather Anthony

    I’ve only been to Trolley Square once about two years ago, but I really loved the atmosphere there. City Creek pales in comparison, in terms of character. I’d much rather go to Trolley Square than City Creek, but I guess I won’t have that option for very much longer.

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