For his master’s thesis, Medford architect-in-training Patrick McKechnie has revisioned Medford's Rogue Valley Mall as almost a city unto itself, full of exciting new adventures that invite visitors to spend the day and evening — shopping, of course, but also enjoying an amphitheater, nice restaurants, fitness centers, gardened walkways, offices, condos, clinics, library, park, farmers market, recreation and a central arcade open to the sky.
McKechnie, of Oregon Architects in Medford, says malls should evolve out of their shopping-only mission and become more diverse — and more competitive with online shopping. His project and drawings are on display at Ashland Art Center, 357 E. Main St.
“The way we are buying is shifting and altering,” he says. “A lot of space isn’t being used. Malls need to be rebranded and redeveloped. Instead of big, blank walls, in the future, we’re seeing interactive walls where you can view and order stuff.
He notes the mall property is three-fourths parking, which could be put to better use and could better incorporate mass transit.
“The new image will allow building space upward, also downward, making a smaller footprint with less maintenance cost. Pathways will allow 24/7 access. It’s the kind of thing where, theoretically, you’d never have to leave.
“This new kind of mall would be more interesting. It would use a lot of stagnant retail space. You allow it to be opened up and exposed to nature, allowing constant evolution on-site. You break it into smaller buildings with walkways.”
McKechnie says his cutting-edge mall is a response to challenges in the business, notably online shopping. He points to studies and stats driving the change.
Time Magazine predicts that of 1,100 malls in the U.S., a fourth will close by 2022, “victims of changing tastes, a widening wealth gap and the embrace of online shopping … .” It also saId the lingering effects of the Great Recession will continue to be a drag on malls' survival.
Rogue Valley Mall has felt the impact of online shopping from digital behemoths such as Amazon, says mall General Manager Jeff Barber, but, at 84 percent occupancy, is not among those threatened. In fact, he adds,12,000 square feet are now under construction, with 8,000 more slated to start in a few months. Another 52,000 new square feet are under negotiation for the more distant future.
In research for his project McKechnie conferred with Barber, who says many of the architect’s ideas are already being put into play by malls across the nation.
“He has some fun ideas and concepts. He’s using what’s going to be part of the future for us, for sure. His premise is that malls will adapt and change. We could see more recreational uses, offices, motel, restaurant, condos. The mall industry is already involved in doing that.”
Barber’s umbrella corporation, JLL has already adapted some malls to include garden walkways and amphitheaters, he says, and walls-as-screens has already happened in some of JLL’s scores of malls. However, he says, the open-to-the-sky central arcade “doesn’t grab me at all.”
He adds, “I’m not saying his project is the wave of the future, but elements of it are absolutely going to happen.”
McKechnie says costs per square foot indicate such a radical revamping would require an investment of several hundred million dollars.
He is a recent graduate of Boston Architectural College and is involved in the final steps of getting his license to practice.
— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at email@example.com.
(Jan. 19: Story updated to correct the name of the college from which Patrick McKechnie graduated.)