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Photo courtesy of Cypress Equities.
Inside the food court at Brookwood Village.
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Photo courtesy of Cypress Equities
Brookwood Village renovations were completed mid-2016.
Brookwood Village has been open for more than 40 years, and the mall itself is more than 600,000 square feet. It recently underwent massive renovations that cost $20 million and services thousands locally. And while shoppers walk past empty storefronts, Brookwood officials have a plan.
“Everybody just sees there’s a vacancy here and there, and says, ‘Oh, so-and-so left,’” said Matt Lukas, director of asset management for Brookwood Village. Lukas works for Arrow Retail, an independent company that is a national investment manager and focuses solely on retail properties. He said despite any vacancies, foot traffic has been consistent throughout the mall.
Although there is the idea that malls are dying, if the surrounding community is doing well and shopping at their local mall, then chances are that shopping center is doing well.
“Malls succeed and fail for a variety of reasons, much of which is dependent upon the health of the surrounding community,” said Noelle Malone of the International Council of Shopping Centers.
One of the many aspects people usually blame for storefront failure, particularly in malls, is online shopping, something most stores now are familiar with.
“You have the internet, but it’s a piece of it,” Lukas said. “It isn’t the point to totally replace the brick and mortar of a store.”
By including online storefronts, the idea is to help businesses expand their sales and reach a larger audience, he said.
“Online shopping is helping retailers and property owners evolve,” Malone said. “They are implementing digital elements to create an experience for customers. Stores are offering the ability to buy online and pick up in-store to encourage in-person shopping.”
Lukas doesn’t deny the impact of the other two local shopping centers, The Summit along U.S. 280 and the Riverchase Galleria in Hoover. The Summit is an open-air retail experience many shoppers look for, and the Galleria has maintained a large variety of tenants for years. However, he describes both centers as more regional retailers that draw in shoppers from different areas, something that Brookwood doesn’t have an interest in competing with.
“Historically, absolutely you’d be crazy not to say [they have affected Brookwood] because they’re all going after the same people,” he said. “Where [Brookwood] sits, it’s different. We’re going to be really bonding with the town and local community.” That community connection started with the mall’s most recent renovations.
Renovations were completed mid-2016 and worked on both interior and exterior features. Focusing on contemporary and modern architecture with a traditional setting and creating an “entertainment destination,” the work included remodeling the first floor foyer and updating the second floor common areas and food court.
“I think [the renovations] have helped some, and we’ve heard it from the folks who go there,” Lukas said. “We’re glad we kind of got that out of the way, because we have a long-term development plan.”
That plan is completely under wraps and awaiting approval from various tenants and companies, but Brookwood has met with the cities of Homewood and Mountain Brook at various steps along the way to keep them updated.
“If you could have sat in on my conversation in the [last few months] with both mayors and the couple of folks with both cities, there’s a really great long-term story here,” Lukas said. “Where the property physically is, it just totally fits our mold for redevelopment.”
Overall, the mall is looking to bring in different retail concepts, such as more food and beverage, entertainment and hospitality options to the property, he said, while filling all of the storefronts.
“We are actively pursuing someone for every single space,” Lukas said. “If the answer isn’t that you’re working for people for every single space, then you aren’t working as hard as you can.” As of mid-December, he noted they had sent out leases to potential tenants.
Lukas also said the stretches that have multiple storefronts closed may eventually hold slightly larger retailers filling the total space, but those retailers will still focus on the community.
“Brands have gotten smaller. Well, the good news for that is that Brookwood is not a big project,” he said. “What we’re doing is buying assets that can adjust to that based on what the community needs and what the community wants.”
Interior remodeling plans should be done in the spring, although much depends on retailers and contractual information. Because there also will be adjustments to spaces within the mall to meet the needs of different tenants, there may be some construction and build-outs, although the extent of it remains unknown. Once construction begins, Lukas said it could be a few years before completion.
“It will have the traditional mall feel and attributes, but in the long run we wanted it to be a place where the community can hang out,” Lukas said. “We’ll be glad we took the asset through this life cycle process.”