How Malls Intend to Win Us Back

Expansions and updates are underway at Ridgedale and MOA.

Mall of America's addition
Photo courtesy MOA
MOA's addition could include up to 75 new stores.

If you’ve ever taken the escalator up from the center court at Ridgedale Center, you know you have to do a 180 around the perimeter to get back down. This is annoying, and it was meant to be. Some 20 years ago, Ridgedale’s escalators were designed to be inconvenient. The thinking was, if you had to walk by eight or 10 extra stores, you’d do extra shopping. Now they know you’ll just be looking at your phone.

Technology has made us more distracted and impatient, and it’s put a world of shopping in the palms of our hands. That means shopping centers have to work a lot harder to get our attention. Two local projects are showing us exactly how malls plan to do so: by focusing less on shopping. 

The best example can be seen at the new third-floor Exhibit Center at the Mall of America, where you can currently pay $23.99 to walk through Barbie’s Dreamhouse or $16.99 to solve a CSI-style murder mystery. Even Spock will have reason to go to the mall this summer, with a Star Trek “experience” opening at MOA.

 To me, the Exhibit Center feels sterile, but who’s to argue with the long lines? MOA is also bringing back live music with a suburbanized version of the 400 Bar and a Hard Rock CafĂ©. Then there’s the $325 million expansion underway to the north of the mall, which will feature a large event space, a JW Marriot luxury hotel, a new dining hall, a tourism center, an office building, and, oh yeah: space for as many as 75 new stores.

The MOA expansion will open in the fall of 2015, right around the same time as the new Nordstrom opens at Ridgedale. Since there’s no out-malling the Mall of America, Ridgedale will focus heavily on convenience and community. “I want you to walk by 100 stores and not even realize you’ve done it because it was so easy,” says Ridgedale leasing director Jill Noack.

Ridgedale MallThe newly enlarged Macy's store at Ridgedale is nearly complete.
Photo by Caitlin Abrams

By the time Nordstrom opens, Ridgedale expects to have at least two new trendy dining options (think sushi, frozen yogurt) in center court and more restaurants throughout the mall, including a remodeled Lakeshore Grill at Macy’s with outdoor seating. Ridgedale’s play area is also being overhauled, and the mall is creating an added 55,000 square feet of new retail.

Another subtle but significant change: Ridgedale’s carpet will be removed. Like the divided escalators, carpet was once thought to slow down shoppers. Now it’s recognized for what it is: dated and dirty.

All of it speaks to how sophisticated the buying public has become: There’s no fooling shoppers today. But they can be wooed by attractive surroundings, good food, and free Wi-Fi. Even teens occasionally want to stare at their phones together, in public. The shopping center is still a gathering spot, be it for dining, movies, or just being out in the world.

I do worry about how they’ll fill the added retail space at Ridgedale and MOA, but I trust that leasing experts know the interest is there—once the surrounding attractions are in place to support it.

And if neither of these expansions includes a Zara, let’s never speak of it again.