Features Newswire Mann Report

The 21st Century Transformation of Malls: Eastern Hills Town Center, Buffalo, NY

Eastern Hills (Photo courtesy of Uniland)

Malls, once emblematic of consumer culture, are now undergoing a profound metamorphosis to align with the evolving demands of the 21st century. Transitioning into vibrant lifestyle destinations termed “Town Centers,” these spaces seamlessly blend entertainment, dining, retail, housing and collaborative work environments.

A prime example of this transformation is unfolding in Buffalo, New York, where the Eastern Hills Mall is currently undergoing a redevelopment initiative that will reshape its identity into an urbanesque, pedestrian-friendly setting that harmoniously integrates retail, entertainment, health and wellness amenities, alongside office spaces and residential options. According to the American Planning Association, mixed-use development allows for greater housing variety and density, encourages more compact development which supports tax revenue growth for the surrounding community, strengthens neighborhood character and sense of place and promotes pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly environments.

Built in 1969 and opened in 1971, the Eastern Hills Mall was home to several anchor stores including JCPenney, Sears and Macy’s. The mall underwent an extensive overhaul in 1987 that added a food court and, throughout the years, minor cosmetic renovations.

Following well-documented changes in consumer buying preferences, the growth of online shopping and the subsequent closure of several brick-and-mortar anchor stores, in January 2024 mall owners and developers Uniland Development Company and Mountain Development Corp. (MDC) closed the interior concourses of the mall to begin the transformation into a new town center.

Although in-store shopping is still preferred when looking at the data, 20.1% of retail purchases are expected to take place online in 2024, up from an estimated 18.8% in 2023, according to eMarketer’s forecast 2024 report. And this number is expected to grow each year — by 2027, online retail purchases are expected to hit nearly 23%, according to Statista figures.

Upon full buildout, Eastern Hills Town Center is projected to be home to 1,500 residential units, one million square feet of office and medical space, multiple restaurants, retail stores, hotels and parks for outdoor event space. The total landscape is made up of 100 acres, located on the sought-after border between Clarence and Amherst, two of the strongest towns for population growth and income in western New York.

The future town center will provide a mixed-use, village-like atmosphere, with 24/7 activity supporting a live/work/play lifestyle.

To save the American mall model from its own demise, we must adapt to 21st century trends. The consumer pool has broadened because of mixed-use developments. We’re now catering to corporations, retailers, tourists and residents. As we crafted the vision for what the town center would be, we remained persistent in our commitment to prioritizing the needs and desires of consumers.

Town centers are experiencing increased popularity throughout the United States due to rising demand for the charm of suburban living coupled with the convenience of walkability and accessibility to nearby vendors. According to a National Association of Realtors report, 79% of respondents rate walkability as “very” or “somewhat” important, and 78% say they’d pay more for a home in a walkable community. This figure increases to 90% when looking at Gen Z and millennial respondents.

As for amenities, according to McKinsey, “Around 50% of U.S. consumers now report wellness as a top priority in their day-to-day lives, a significant rise from 42% in 2020.”

Mixed-use developments like this are especially appealing to businesses regarding talent recruitment. Employees are drawn to the convenience of having lifestyle amenities within easy walking distance, eliminating the need for driving. Walking or biking also leads to financial benefits, such as lower auto expenses for insurance, maintenance and gas.

The town center model supports many Americans’ recent pri- oritization of work/life balance. In recent years, studies have shown that the workforce prioritizes work-life balance, some- times even over salary — 72% of workers believe work-life balance is a critical factor when choosing a job, according to a Zippia report.

Adaptation is essential for navigating the complexities of an ever-evolving world, and within the realm of commercial real estate, this holds particularly true. Amidst dynamic shifts in work patterns, housing trends and consumer preferences, the imperative to adapt has never been more pressing. We perceive these shifts not as a challenge, but as an opportunity for advancement. By embracing change, we unlock the potential to bolster the economic vitality of entire communities, ushering in a new era of prosperity and progress.