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By Eric Hertz, The Robin Report
Contrary to the popular storyline, shopping centers are not going away. They are transforming into an entirely new entity, and in the process rescuing and reviving the downtown shopping districts in major cities across the country.

Yes, the old-style mall of yore, with acres of depressing walkways and papered-up storefronts, is on the way out. So are the so-called regional malls … located adjacent to the interstate and anchored by one or two faded big box stores which have long lost their appeal.

There is an irony to this story. Back in the 1950s, when shopping centers first emerged on the retail scene, their rapid growth sapped the energy out of downtown business centers in cities large and small. Over the ensuing decades, the retail flight to suburban malls resulted in the deterioration and ultimate capitulation of city cores – which became urban wastelands to be avoided by shoppers and tourists alike.

Now, the pendulum is swinging fiercely back towards urban retail, driven by millennials who have rejected the two-car suburban dream and the majority of shoppers who have come to dread the dreariness of traditional mall shopping. And those developers savvy enough to seize on this trend have helped reestablish downtown as a diverse, high-energy mecca for dining, entertainment, shopping and indeed living.

There are three bold urban developments which have completely reconfigured the idea of “downtown” by incorporating the best and brightest attributes of retail real estate. Two of these projects are not yet completed, and one is over five years old. Together, they serve as a lesson in the adaptability of the shopping center format to the new realities of city living in the 21st century.

Brickell City Centre (Swire Properties)

Brickell City Centre is a five-million-square foot complex developed by Hong-Kong based Swire Properties. Opened in 2016, Brickell incorporates three levels of retail shopping, two office towers and an all-suite hotel. Scheduled for completion in 2019, BCC has already reshaped Downtown Miami, incorporating 500,000 square feet of retail (both luxury and mid-level); 260,000 square feet of office space and over a million square feet of residential units.

Even in its current early stage, Brickell has attracted legions of office workers, commuters and fun-seeking residents from Miami and its suburbs to its heady mix of shopping, dining and entertainment – including a luxury dine-in theater and Italian food hall.

However, the real key to BCC’s success is its expression of “messy vitality” – the spontaneous and sometimes chaotic feel of an old-style city center. In other words, Brickell is the obverse of the traditional mall – open rather than enclosed, impulsive rather than ordered, eclectic rather than cookie cutter. And the overall master plan incorporates the addition of a new downtown transit link to the Miami light rail system.
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