A press release has been issued, renderings have been released. This time, it's more than talk: Southdale is finally, and I mean, finally, ready for the Big Fix. Or at least, first steps to restore the relevancy of nation's first enclosed shopping center. Simon Property Group has got to put some money into modernizing the center if it is to attract prime stores. (You can be sure Michael Kors and Herberger's--both opening in November--knew improvements were coming when they signed on.) These renovations are scheduled to begin in January:
- Redesigned Food Court: The food court is moving to the second floor JC Penney wing. Southdale promises new vendors, new seating, sky lights and new restrooms. (The mall says the current third floor food court will remain open during construction, which is startling news, considering most shoppers assumed it closed years ago.)
- New corridor. They're busting through the wall that has closed off the JC Penney wing for better access and flow.
- Remodeled mall entrance between JC Penney and Macy's with a covered area, sliding doors and more modern look.
- New play area. Now we're talking. Southdale is planning an indoor/outdoor play area for kids near the remodeled entrance. It's one of the simplest improvements that goes a long way toward being a community gathering spot...as I pointed out way back on Feb. 23, 2007 in the St. Paul Pioneer Press:
DEAR SIMON, PLEASE SAVE SOUTHDALE To whom it may concern at Simon Property Group, Inc.: I'm really glad to hear you guys are buying Southdale Center. The place is a mess. While other malls have found new anchors, the old Mervyn's space remains vacant at Southdale. The food court is a ghost town, as is the JC Penney's wing. One of the few new stores to open in recent months -- Image -- turned out to be a front for a drug operation. The latest blow came this week: Crate & Barrel -- one of the few remaining draws -- announced plans to move next door to the Galleria. Understanding how things got this bad is difficult. Not to diminish the expertise it takes to run a successful shopping center, but managing Southdale seems like a no-brainer. The mall is located in affluent Edina, which has long been known as a regional shopping destination. It has one of the best Macy's stores in town, plus premium retailers like J. Crew, Apple, Coach and Aveda. There's a megaplex with stadium seating and the best row of upscale restaurant chains in town, including Minnesota's only Cheesecake Factory, where it seems the wait is always an hour and a half. And I'm sure I don't have to tell you, Simon, that Southdale has a national reputation as the country's first enclosed mall. What the mall needs now is a loving, monogamous relationship. Southdale has been bounced from owner to owner to owner in the past five years, and each has been too consumed with its own financial woes to give this mall the attention it needs. Do I sound emotional? Well, Southdale is my mall. It's where I got my first hair cut, my first bra, my first job. It's where I met up with boys (OK, watched them pass by) and tried on prom dresses with friends. It's where I took my own baby on his first outing because I knew where all the bathrooms were located. It's sad to watch your hometown mall fall apart like this. Southdale was once the premiere Twin Cities shopping center. Now, there's no compelling reason to visit -- beyond the restaurants and movie theaters. And you don't even need to walk through the rest of the mall to get to them. What a dumb design. Something must be done to save Southdale. I'm counting on you, Simon, to bring some much-needed stability to this local shopping institution. You did a competent job running Mall of America. (Until those renegade Ghermezian brothers snatched it back. Sorry to bring that up.) And Maplewood Mall, which you continue to operate, seems to be thriving. So I know you're quite familiar with this market and our sophisticated taste. Living in the tundra doesn't prevent us from being fashionable. We want the newest, the latest, the best. Still, swooping in to heal the damage of neglect must seem a monumental task, even for an enormous retail real estate conglomerate like you. I've prepared a to-do list to get you started. -- Woo a high-end department store. We've all heard the rumors that Neiman Marcus is interested in Southdale. Jump on that! Or see if you can talk Saks Fifth Avenue into giving the Twin Cities another go. We're drowning in moderate stores. Southdale built its reputation on distinction. It's time to regain that crown. -- Gut the remains of that pathetic third-floor food court. Bring in vendors more appetizing than Sbarro and create an inviting space. For guidance, take a look at Eden Prairie Center, where a fireplace and leather sofas give the food court some actual atmosphere. -- Treat the gaping spaces throughout the center as an opportunity to once again create a unique tenant mix. Bring in some of the new retail chains that are looking for real estate at other upscale malls across the country. Forth & Towne, Gap's new concept for women over 35, ought to be a great fit. An A/X Armani Exchange would certainly boost Southdale's -- and the Twin Cities' -- shopping image. Even a French Connection would help. Lacoste, which is hot once again on the coasts, would fit in perfectly in this preppy part of town. -- Find a way to open up that cavernous JC Penney wing, or at least make shoppers a little less scared to venture down there. No, I don't have specifics -- you're the experts. Aren't you? -- Add a free children's play area. During the winter in Minnesota, malls become a substitute for parks. Parents go out of their way to frequent places where their children can burn off energy in a designated space. Rosedale, Ridgedale and Eden Prairie Center have figured this out. Time to catch up. -- While we're on the subject of kids, some clean new family bathrooms would be a big improvement as well. I've been told that even with competent management, it could take years to turn things around at Southdale in any meaningful way, so I'll try to be patient. But be aware that Martin & Osa is just the latest hot new concept to open at Mall of America, Rosedale has that new lifestyle wing, Ridgedale just started a major renovation and the cozy cabin-like atmosphere at Eden Prairie Center is a compelling draw even without a ton of A-list stores. I'll give you a fair chance to return Southdale to its former glory, but if you don't do right by my mall, Simon, know that I've got options.