Developers are pumping millions of dollars into Roseville's Macomb Mall, hoping they can convince east-side shoppers there's still plenty of retail life in a 50-year-old mall in an aging blue-collar suburb.
The mall, which still has major anchors in Old Navy, Kohl's and Sears, can be a thriving shopping destination once again, says Karl Zarbo of the Bloomfield Hills-based Lormax Stern, the mall's new owner. It could also be part of a larger reboot of tired and worn Gratiot Avenue, a traditional shopping destination for east-siders.
Zarbo said several major retailers are on the way, among them Dick's Sporting Goods, which will open Oct. 22. Along other parts of Gratiot, different developers are building an L.A. Fitness, a bowling alley is getting a major update and a handful of new restaurants are opening.
The overhaul of the 930,000-square-foot mall built in 1964 is a mix of interior and exterior renovations and new construction. When completed by the middle of 2015, it will be a hybrid of traditional indoor mall and modern open-air shopping. New buildings for multiple tenants, including restaurants, will be built in parking lots. Curbs, landscaping and updated lighting will improve the exterior's appearance, which is now a big parking lot surrounding a big building.
"Virtually every discipline is on that site working. It's as intense as anything I've seen in 30 years," Zarbo said. "We have 34 moving pieces as we speak. The moving pieces are the re-locations, the construction, the new ones coming in. We have some leaving, leases expiring... It's like playing Monopoly, but in real life."
Lormax Stern has developed or redeveloped dozens of malls, demolishing some, re-using others.
Beth Stafford of Grosse Pointe says it's about time for an update.
"I really shouldn't have to drive to Lakeside or Partridge Creek or Somerset," she said. She was shopping for a gift at Bath & Body Works at the mall this week. "I have money I'm ready to spend, and I like to support real stores, if possible, but I only come here if I absolutely have to."
Zarbo said that sort of thinking is partly what convinced the company to invest in a major renovation.
"We could see there was a void in the market. And a store like Dick's fit perfectly with a strategy to bring businesses that are needed in that market," he said. "Dick's really became the catalyst for the entire project."
Zarbo will not disclose the amount the company will spend, but the Michigan Economic Development Corp. has put the first phase of the development — there will be at least three, Zarbo said — at $8.3 million. Lormax Stern bought the property after the previous owner defaulted on a property loan. The Macomb County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority has the state's OK to capture $1.6 million in taxes to help developers renovate the property, and county officials say, create 295 permanent, full-time jobs. The city of Roseville approved a 10-year commercial rehab tax abatement that will save the property owners about $800,000.
Five future tenants have started construction or have signed leases. At least three current national stores are moving into larger spaces inside the mall or expanding into neighboring stores.
■Dick's Sporting Goods will open Oct. 22 in what used to be a Crowley's and then a Value City. The new Dick's takes up 50,000-square feet and is a new style prototype. It's situated on a prominent spot facing Gratiot Avenue. The new store bumps out into what was parking lot and will have entrances from the lot and the mall.
■H&M, an affordable fashion retailer, will open sometime in 2015 in the center of the mall, in place of six or seven tenants.
■Shoe Carnival is renovating a large corner space outside of Kohl's and plans to open by Nov. 1. It will cover a spot that once held six to eight smaller shops, and have entrances in and outside the mall.
■Ulta Beauty, a cosmetics, fragrance and skin care chain, is scheduled to open in the spring of 2015 in the center of the mall.
■Michigan-based Red Olive restaurant will take space in one of the buildings in front of the mall in February or March.
■Champs Sports is expanding into a neighboring store, doubling its space. The expansion should be complete by March.
■Lane Bryant, a plus-size women's clothing chain, will open in about two weeks in a new and renovated space.
■Bath & Body Works is expanding into a larger renovated space in mid-January.
What isn't changing is the Macomb Mall sign, a metal structure that conveyed the era in which the mall was built. The fate of the sign became a source of concern in the community.
"The sign got more attention than the renovation itself. We've nicknamed it 'The Iconic,'" Zarbo said. "We think we are keeping both sides happy; those that feel it's iconic and important and those that felt it's old and tired. What we have said is we are trying to respectfully renovate."
Ed Nakfoor, retail analyst, said the investment in the old mall should show that old suburbs have plenty of retail life left in them.
"It's a popular pastime in metro Detroit to discount our older, close-in communities and the first wave of suburban commercial development as places where national retail can't thrive," he said. "On the contrary, there's money to be made and lots of closets to fill in these areas. My hope is that other property owners operating near Macomb Mall and throughout the metro area will be inspired by Lormax Stern and see the value in sprucing up their properties: in remerchandising what's being offered, working with their tenants to ensure they do well... or something as minor as spiffing up the parking lots. Pride of place benefits every business."