The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

July 27, 2008

What $240 Million Gets You These Days: A Look at the Westfield Southcenter Expansion

Filed under: Malls, shopping — Tags: , , , — Brian Lutz @ 12:07 am

Yesterday morning, after two years of construction, Westfield Southcenter’s new $240 million expansion officially opened its doors to the public with much fanfare.  A crowd estimated to be 6,000 people showed up (some of them arriving as early as 1AM) to be among the first to shop in the mall’s new stores, and although I wasn’t able to attend myself due to work, I was able to get down there this morning to check out the place.  As I had mentioned previously, last weekend the movie theater was already open on the third level of the new atrium.  This provided a chance to take a sneak peek at the new expansion, but at the time I didn’t take any photos since there was still a fair bit of stuff that was unfinished, and most of it was roped off anyway.   

With the new expansion, Southcenter now solidifies its position as the largest shopping mall in the Pacific Northwest, and although it doesn’t add any new anchor stores (currently, the mall’s former Mervyn’s store remains vacant,) it still brings in several new major retailers, five new sit-down restaurants, a brand new food court (or “dining terrace” as they prefer to call it) and a 16-screen cinema.  After the jump, a look at some of the new features that the Southcenter expansion has to offer.

In total, the new expansion entails 75 new stores (although that number is a bit of an exaggeration, since a number of the “new” stores are tenants that moved from locations in the old mall) and roughly 500,000 square feet of new retail space, bringing the property to a total of 1.7 million square feet of retail space (compared to Alderwood Mall’s 1.5 million square feet, 1.3 million at Bellevue Square, 980,000 at Northgate Mall and 729,000 at the Everett Mall.)  With a relatively small space in which to put the expansion, they opted to build two floors of new retail space, with the movie theater found above on a third story.  This photo was taken from the ground floor, and you can see where the ceilings open up to the floor above.

Scattered throughout the mall are these seating areas, several of which feature TVs to watch while shoppers rest (Sponsored, of course, by Comcast.) 

Due to the space constraints under which the designers were working under (and the fact that much of the roof of the new expansion has been used as parking space)  it would have been basically impossible to recreate the iconic vaulted ceilings found over in the original mall, but they were able to create a subtle homage to the classic 1960s design.  Even with the plentiful skylights, the overall feel of the new mall space is somewhat darker and more contemporary than the bright and airy hallways of the original mall, especially on the ground floor.

From a balcony on the second floor, you can see down into the old mall’s main atrium leading toward the Bon Marche/Macy’s store, providing a surprisingly dramatic view that I doubt that the old mall’s designers ever counted on anyone seeing.  Whenever I get around to creating the full profile of this mall on the site I will go over the old mall more thoroughly, but for now I’ll be focusing on the new expansion.

One exception to this is the atrium area, with its towering 90-foot glass facade and giant skylights.  Combined with the exposed beams as you see here, this creates an effect somewhat reminiscent of that found in downtown Seattle’s Pacific Place (which also features an AMC theatre on its topmost story,) but on a smaller scale than the giant 4-story atrium found in that particular shopping center.

From a different angle, you can see the movie theater here.  Since I rarely watch movies, I haven’t bothered to figure out exactly how they managed to cram sixteen screens into there, but it takes up much of the roof space over the newly constructed retail stores.

Elsewhere in the mall, we see that several of the old stores have received new entrances.  This one, as you might have figured out already, leads to the Sears store from the second floor.  Since the original first floor entrance is already just down the hallway, this is the only new entrance for this particular store.  It is interesting to note that they chose to use the older uppercase “SEARS” logo instead of the current lowercase “Sears” version.  This was presumably done to match the existing signage on the building, which presumably is original to this store’s early 90s origins in the mall as a replacement to the former Fredrick and Nelson store.  Given the fact that many Sears stores in the area still bear the old signage, they don’t seem to be in too much of a hurry to change over.

On the other hand, the JCPenney store received new entrances from both floors of the new expansion.  The store is currently under renovation, and when I was there today, it appeared that all of the escalators were in the process of being replaced.  This meant that to gef from floor to floor within the store required the use of either the elevator or the stairs.

Back on the other side of the mall, we see the new Borders store, one of the new expansion’s largest tenants.  In spite of this, it appears that this particular store is actually quite a bit smaller than most of the Borders stores in the area. 

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Looking at the store from the outside, you can see that it has an external entrance, but it turns out that the store is only on the top floor, with the entrance leading to a small hallway with an escalator.  Perhaps this was originally planned as a more standard 2-story Borders store, but due to some of the chain’s recent financial difficulties they decided to go for a smaller store instead?

Of the new stores added to the mall, perhaps the most significant is that of the 24,000 square foot H&Mstore, the first to be opened in the Seattle metro area.  H&M is a Sweden-based retailer of designer clothing at prices that mere mortals can actually afford.  In a sense, you might think of it as being the Ikea of clothing, but I would need to spend more than a few minutes browsing through the racks to determine if this is an accurate description or not.   This particular store takes up space on both stories, and when it opened yesterday the store was filled to capacity for much of the day, requiring people to wait in line in order to get in.

The opening of the new Southcenter also brings the return of the food court (or, as was stated earlier, the “Dining Pavilion,” which was closed at the beginning of construction and subsequently demolished to make way.  A number of tenants from the old food court have returned, including Sbarro and Sarku Japan, which you see here.  Other returning tenants include Panda Express, Cinnabon, and Ivar’s.  In addition to these, a number of new dining options are available, including Sushi Itto Go (I think that’s how it’s spelled anyway,) Noodle Zone, Thai Go, Chicken Now, Red Mango and Ben & Jerry’s.  Several other eateries are still under construction. 

All of the mall’s new sit-down eateries are located on the outside of the mall, comprising what is known as the “Lupine Walk” area.  In addition to the five new restaurants, there are a number of existing restaurants scattered throughout the property, with several in the old mall, and several in outbuildings on the mall property.

All in all, the new Southcenter expansion is pretty impressive, and it’s also impressive that they managed to open the new expansion with all available space occupied (although as stated earlier, relocating stores have left a number of vacancies in the old mall.)  They also seem to have done a good job of integrating the expansion into the existing mall, and even though there is a distinct difference in style between the two halves of the mall, they still compliment each other well.  Not everything is quite 100% up to speed here yet though.  There were a few opening day glitches here and there, parking was somewhat difficult (which can probably be attributed to the grand opening crowds,) and as mentioned previously some of the food court eateries had not yet opened yet.  Given the surprisingly unfinished state of the mall when I was there a week earlier, it’s amazing that they managed to get all the stuff that they did finished on time though, so a few bugs here and there can be forgiven.

At some point in the future I plan to do a profile of Southcenter as a whole, although with other projects I am working on (particulatly Crossroads,) I don’t know when I’m going to get around to actually doing it.  I don’t think this place will be going anywhere anytime soon though, so no need to hurry, right?

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1 Comment »

  1. Your photos of the Southcenter remodeling and expansion making an interesting comparison with the current expansion going on down at the Tacoma Mall, its former sister property. They were virtually identical John Graham-designed malls when they first opened.

    Though the Tacoma Mall had just been remodeled in 1999-2000, the closure of Mervyn’s set off the current project by Simon Properties. Mervyn’s (ex-Liberty House/Frederick & Nelson) has been demolished and a new Nordstrom has gone up in its place, which looks like it will be ready to open before the Christmas shopping season. Once Nordstrom moves, their old store (last remodeled in 1983 and showing its age) will be demolished and replaced with a lifestyle addition. Another lifestyle section is already in progress along the frontage of the food court entrance.

    The covered courtyard fronting the mall’s main entrance has been demolished and from the architectural sketches, appears like it will be replaced with a boxy facade dominated by plate glass. Inside the Columnarium (that was the original name for the atrium in front of The Bon Marche), they have tried to obscure the columns by bridging them with hideous archways that appear to be made of plywood or plaster that has been painted white. At least Westfield had enough sense to leave them untouched at Southcenter.

    The other major alteration has been the installation of skylights throughout the concourses — basically one half of the ceiling was replaced with glass between every other section of the old narrow skylights. Unlike at Southcenter, it has become almost blindingly bright in sections of the mall when the sun is at an angle to shine directly through the skylights. The positive effect of so much natural light is that the color temperature of the concourse gradually changes as day turns into evening and the interior lights become more dominant.

    Supposedly, the expansion will top out at 1.4 million square feet, which would put the Tacoma Mall back up there with Southcenter and Alderwood in terms of floor space. A good chunk of that is tied up in the enormous Macy’s store, as it is at Southcenter. Much of the northern section of the original Tacoma Mall parcel was sold off to other developers over the years, so it’s hemmed in to the point that an expansion on the scale of Southcenter’s would probably eat up too much of the remaining parking lot to ever be approved.

    Comment by T.K. — August 9, 2008 @ 11:16 am


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