New at the mall: An apartment so you never have to leave

An increasing number of shopping malls — which already offer movie theaters, food courts and shops that sell everything from luggage to underwear — want to keep you there around the clock with apartments in their unused parking lots.

Malls in South Florida are entering into real estate to keep you shopping and literally living at the mall, and at the same time turning empty parking lots and surrounding land into money-making ventures. In the latest example of what some experts say is a growing trend, developers filed plans Monday afternoon in Coral Springs to build “Metropolitan at Coral Square” — a tower of more than 200 rental apartments at the Coral Square mall.

The eight-story building wrapped partly around a swimming pool will be built on a 5-acre piece of empty land north of the Sears parking lot on the north end of the mall, fronting Ramblewood Drive. Experts say it’s part of what could be a trend of developers gobbling up retail space to build homes. As shoppers use online retailers such as Amazon instead of traditional brick-and-mortar stores, developers say not as much space is needed anymore.

“Retail is changing so rapidly that the way consumers shop is changing and inevitably [there is] space in parking areas for re-use,” said Kim Briesemeister, one of the co-directors of Redevelopment Management Associates. “Re-use is a good opportunity for building within an already built-up environment.” And, she said, “you don’t want a sea of parking not being used. And the best use is residential.” She said the idea of building homes on empty space is “marrying the things that make up a great urban pedestrian environment — people can walk to get to those stores.”

Ira Teicher, a Miami lawyer who represented a developer building hundreds of apartments at the site of a mall in Massachusetts, said malls that are defunct, or close to defunct, are searching for ways to stay in business. “Think of the typical shopping mall, not just vacancies, but a ton of land around it that’s not needed,” he said. “Developers have realized some of these sites are prime for redevelopment.” He sees the trend continuing as big-box retailers look to downsize as their online sales pick up steam. “Land is valuable; they’ll get repositioned,” he said of the malls.

In South Florida, it’s happening over and over. In West Palm Beach, Related Cos. has proposed a 21-story residential tower on the site of a five-story Macy’s left empty in 2017 at Rosemary Square, formally known as CityPlace. The residential project will have 325 rental apartment.

In Boynton Beach, a plan is pending to build hundreds of homes, as well as offices, more stores and restaurants, at the Boynton Beach Mall’s 108-acre site. Scores of stores have closed or moved from the mall within the last few years, including the Disney store, Build-A-Bear Workshop, Bucca Di Beppo, Littman’s Jewelers and Sears.

“With the direction malls have taken … [with the] decline in popularity and practicality, creating new mixed-use hubs is a great way to repurpose these sites,” said Boynton Beach Commissioner Justin Katz, whose district covers the mall.

In South Miami, about half of the mall at the Shops at Sunset Place will be replaced with three apartment and hotel towers of up to 17 stories along South Dixie Highway.

In Sunrise, a developer announced plans earlier this year to demolish a former Winn-Dixie to build Vista Verde at Sunrise, a 288-unit rental apartment project. Some of the best-known tenants at the plaza, including an AMC Sunrise 8 movie theater and Pediatric Associates branch office, will remain. And in Plantation, the former Fashion Mall is transforming into Plantation Walk, a mix of 700 rental apartments with 180,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor. Construction began in January on 171 apartments and the first phase of retail; the target completion date is in fall 2020.

Steven Henenfeld, a retail broker with Colliers International South Florida, who is leasing space for Plantation Walk, said the reincarnation of shopping malls into housing is “the wave of the future.” “Department stores are going dark,” he said, and that, coupled with the increasingly high cost of empty land, means developers are searching for new ways to build.

At the Coral Square mall project, the developer will be Ascend Properties, which built the 178unit Metropolitan rental apartments in Wilton Manors in 2017. A spokeswoman for Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group, the largest shopping mall operator in the country which manages Coral Square mall, said it has developed comparable residential projects at Southdale Center in Edina, Minn., and Phipps Plaza in Atlanta.

A Simon spokeswoman wouldn’t specifically address whether mall traffic has slowed, but the company said in a statement from Patrick Peterman, senior vice president of Development and Asset Intensification, that the addition of this luxury residential community “will meet market demand in an area that is vibrant, sustainable while making the most of the downtown area for residents where they can live, work, play, stay, and shop.”

The plan at Coral Square mall calls for 204 rental apartments in a mix of one- and two-bedroom apartments with balconies. It will feature a pool, fitness center, yoga studio, dog park, playground, club room and an internet cafe.

The projected rent has not yet been announced, although “we will be very competitive of those exiting rents within a 5-mile radius,” said Dean Borg, one of the founders and principals of Ascend Properties.

He said he expects the project to appeal to a range of age of renters who “don’t want to have to get in their car every time they want to go shop.”

He called the area — near University Drive and Atlantic Boulevard — an area with “wonderful access and visibility, an excellent location [that will become a] landmark for the neighborhood.”

Because the plans in Coral Springs have just been formally submitted, there is no timetable yet for public hearings or city approvals. If it is approved without delay, construction could begin in the first quarter of 2021, Borg said.

By: Lisa J. Huriash

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